Interview with Saudi King Abdullah

As I was watching Seinfeld on the Saudi channel MBC4 last night, the show got interrupted to bring news that King Abdullah had given his first TV interview as king to the American channel ABC. The transcript is here. I can't say I find anything remarkable about the platitudes contained inside it, but found this part interesting:

WALTERS: Let's talk about Iran ... Iran has become more powerful as a result of the turmoil in Iraq. Do you see that as a concern for Saudi Arabia?
ABDULLAH: The questioner is often times more knowledgeable than the questionee.
WALTERS: (Laughs) So, you are not worried about Iran becoming more powerful?
ABDULLAH: Iran is a friendly country. Iran is a Muslim country. We hope that Iran will not become an obstacle to peace and security in Iraq. This is what we hope for and this is what we believe the Iraqi people hope for.
ABDULLAH: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, like other countries in the region, rejects the acquisition of nuclear weapons by anyone, especially nuclear weapons in the Middle East region. We hope that such weapons will be banned or eliminated from the region by every country in the region
It's interesting wording that's indicative of the rapprochement between Saudi and Iran for the last few years--a tense thawing as what is happening next door in Iraq has long-term implications for the sectarian divide in Saudi Arabia, hence Abdullah's insistence that:

We believe that all Iraq is one country in which all Iraqis live in peace and justice. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia until today has not interfered in Iraq's affairs. We have not done so because we don't want to open ourselves up to charges or accusations that we are ... that we have a hand in the disintegration of ... of Iraq.
I thought this part was rather funny too:

WALTERS: In this country, however, you cannot practice a religion other than Islam publicly, although there are 5 million foreigners in this country.
ABDULLAH: Public worship is not allowed -- you are correct -- because Saudi Arabia, as you know, is the birthplace of Islam. To allow the construction of places of worship other than Islamic ones in Saudi Arabia it would be like asking the Vatican to build a mosque inside of it. However, people in Saudi Arabia are free to practice their faith in the privacy of their homes.
Obviously Abdallah was fairly well briefed before the interview, and indeed probably got written questions first. It's a pity they couldn't send someone more informed about Saudi Arabia to do it instead of Walters.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.