Riyadh, 9th March 2003
Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, the Second Deputy Premier, Minister of Defence and Aviation and Inspector General, reaffirmed Saudi Arabia’s renunciation of terrorism, and said that the Kingdom has suffered the detriment of terrorism in a number of its cities.
In a press conference following a ceremony in honour of the seven recipients of the King Faisal International awards last night, Prince Sultan denied the existence of internal problems in the Kingdom. “There is demand for internal reform, and the Kingdom’s wise leadership is working day and night to achieve development. The Crown Prince is implementing reforms in all spheres, and we are proceeding along a strong course.”
In response to a question on the circumstances of the closure of Arar Airport, the American presence in that area, and the existence of churches at Prince Sultan Base, Prince Sultan said: “During the desert war, over 150,000 Iraqis moved to the Kingdom, some of them stayed in Rafha and others in Al-Artheviya. Those who were residing in Al-Artheviya have been sent back and accepted by Iraq. There were approximately 75,000 in Rafha. They resided in tents at the expense of the state for the first year. But when we discovered that they had brought their wives and children the government set up of well-maintained accommodation for them, which cost hundreds of millions of Saudi Riyals. The Saudi government provided them with opportunities to train and to become teachers, and nurses, among other vocations. There remain only 5000 of them in Rafha. The Kurds went to Kurdish areas, Shias went to Iran, and the rest went to their relatives in America under the auspices of the United Nations.”
“Prince Turki, who was then working in intelligence, visited Rafha several times. Arar was not a military base, or a place of residence for the refugees… But we are now on the verge of war… We hope that Allah prevents war against Iraq and against us all. However, the situation now in Iraq is different from the year 1990/1991. If there is a war, people might move towards Jordan, Kuwait, Syria and Saudi Arabia. We have studied measures, in accordance with directives of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the Crown Prince, to meet this crisis if it takes place. We have exerted our utmost efforts to arrange housing, the provision of foodstuffs, medicine and other utilities. We are ready to receive up to 100,000 refugees, so that they can remain close to their home and family until their return to Iraq. There is, however, a basic issue regarding whether Saudi planes can fly within Iraqi airspace and follow the movement of these people. It cannot do so; hence we have created a force at Arar Airport. We have closed the Airport for the safety of the people of Arar, who can still use the airport of Al-Jouf city.”
Prince Sultan added: “We have received some technical assistance from the Americans so that we would not be caught unawares. The Command at Arar Airport is Saudi, and any U.S. personnel operating at the Airport is for humanitarian purposes alone.”
With respect to the existence of churches at Prince Sultan Airbase in Kharj, Prince Sultan said: “We are not against religions. Since the influx of foreigners in 1951 until this day, we have said to Christians that they are free to do what they want by way of worship in their homes, but that there will not be a church establishment in the Kingdom. No single church exists in the Kingdom; and those who say otherwise are misguided. This country is the cradle of prophecy and the true message and we will not contradict this.”
In response to a question on the nature of preparations at Arar Airport, he said: “There are no missiles. All works are for humanitarian purposes. We have worked according to a Security Council resolution for the past 11 years, which provides for how to protect the Iraqi people.”
Replying to a question as to whether there are any joint air exercises between the American and the Saudis in Tabouk, he said: “Tabouk is a dangerous location, and we are at risk from hostilities by Israel. Israel is trying its best to harm the Kingdom in these crucial circumstances. Therefore, we have moved the largest military fleet in the world, from America, to protect Tabouk and the Kingdom. But this does not mean that we are with the Americans or that we have any plans for war against Israel. We have conducted exercises with the Americans, the British and the French, and we will do so with any country that has advanced technology.”
Upon receiving a prize for service to Islam, Prince Sultan was asked a question about statements issued in the United States accusing the Kingdom of providing aid to the Palestinian Intifada (uprising) and supporting terrorism, Prince Sultan said: “These reports are propagated by the Israelis and not the Americans. The Israelis are doing their best to work against the Kingdom, because the Kingdom is the only country which has stood firmly in support of the Palestinians ever since the days of King Abdul Aziz.”
When asked about the degree of fear about Israeli aggression against the Kingdom, Prince Sultan said: “Our main task is to prevent penetration of Saudi air space or that of any Arab country by the Israelis.”
When asked about the degree of readiness of Saudi forces in case of potential war in the region, Prince Sultan said that Saudi military forces have made all preparations necessary to defend the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
In response to a question about the stance of the Kingdom if there is a war without a second Security Council resolution, and whether the Kingdom will offer logistic support to the United States according to the agreement signed between the two countries, Prince Sultan said: “There is no agreement for military cooperation with America or others. We are against the war, with or without a second Security Council resolution.”
On whether there is a dispute between Saudi soldiers in Al-Jazerah Shield forces and American soldiers with regard to positioning Saudi soldiers in the front line with Iraq, he said: “Al-Jazerah Shield forces are not owned by the Kingdom: they are a coalition of six countries. The forces moved to Kuwait to defend Kuwait, not to engage in a war with Iraq.”
When asked about his views about a possible resolution of the Iraqi crisis, expressed at the Sharm Al-Sheikh Summit and OIC Summit in Qatar, Prince Sultan said: “This is left to Arab and Muslim countries and politicians who understand more than I do in this regard.”
Responding to a question on implications of war for the Saudi economy, Prince Sultan said that Saudi economy is stronger than at any time before, and that the Kingdom’s strong solidarity with GCC states provides extra security in possible crisis.
When asked about a secret agreement with the U.S. to use its forces, Prince Sultan said that no such agreement has been signed. “However, we have an agreement with the United Nations Security Council for reconnaissance planes to observe borders between Iraq and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.”
Asked about Pakistan’s efforts to present a resolution to the Security Council that reflects the GCC and the Kingdom’s views, he said: “Since Pakistan is a current member of the Security Council, it presented this request in support of Arab and Islamic nations, and we wish that there be some understanding of Arab and Islamic views.” Prince Sultan added that Syria is also supporting the Arab nation.