RIYADH, 4 May 2008 — The United States threatened to use force against Saudi Arabia in 1973 after King Faisal, along with other Arab leaders, imposed an oil embargo on countries that supported Israel during the October War, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, former intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington, said in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat yesterday.
In the interview, that appeared ahead of a scientific seminar on King Faisal to be opened by Riyadh Gov. Prince Salman on Tuesday, Prince Turki shed light on important events that took place during his father’s rule.
Prince Turki, who was an adviser at the Royal Court in 1973 when King Faisal took the oil-embargo decision, said the king was not shaken by the US threat and stood firm.
He added that the oil embargo was instrumental in encouraging the US to find a quick and just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. “King Faisal and other Arab leaders were forced to take the decision as a result of America’s unprecedented support for Israel during the war,” the prince said.
He added that American officials talked about the possibility of attacking Saudi oil fields, something that was leaked in US newspapers. Some of these statements came from the then US State Secretary Henry Kissinger.
Prince Turki said King Faisal, who was in Jeddah at the time, received a telegram from Kissinger warning that if the Kingdom did not lift the embargo, the US would take all measures to protect its interests.
“The message was not specific about the measures they were going to take, but it appeared that they would use force. A CIA representative gave me the unsigned message, telling me it was from Kissinger... I went to the king and conveyed its contents. He received the message, read it and said: ‘Kheir insha Allah (Good, God willing).’
“It was very clear that it had come from the American government... The king was very relaxed, cheerful, humorous and was in good spirits despite the threat... This reflected his high quality and determination. He was giving the message that the Kingdom would not bow down to a threat, as a result of a decision it had taken with other Arab countries. It was a great reply,” said Prince Turki.
Prince Turki said the embargo was announced after the October War (also known as the Ramadan War) when the US public was disgruntled by a lack of gasoline. He added that before announcing the embargo, King Faisal had warned the US against its unqualified support for Israel, and for providing the Jewish country with weapons.
Asked whether he considered the embargo to be right or wrong, Prince Turki said: “I am not the person to comment; the action speaks for itself. There is no doubt that the situation necessitated such a decision, as the US was totally siding with Israel during the Ramadan War by providing the Jewish state with weapons.”
He added that King Faisal warned the US before the war and raised the issue of Israel occupying Palestinian land. He also emphasized the need for Israel to withdraw from Arab territories occupied after the 1967 War.
“Before the Ramadan War, King Faisal had created public opinion that the US support for Israel would have negative consequences. The king, along with other Arab leaders, later adopted the decision for an oil boycott. This influenced events as well as US policy toward Arab countries,” he said.
“The US tried to resolve the crisis and Kissinger visited the region about 10 times to reach a solution, as the US saw that its interest was in reaching a peaceful settlement. President Nixon then talked about a just solution to the Middle East problem. Later, other American leaders also presented projects and solutions to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict... For me, the embargo was effective in boosting the Middle East peace process and making new proposals to solve the Palestinian issue.”
Seminar on King Faisal
Speaking about the seminar on King Faisal, Prince Turki said: “This seminar is significant as it focuses on a person who lived during the Kingdom’s unification by King Abdul Aziz... King Faisal also made considerable contributions to the Kingdom’s development and in taking the country to a new phase of progress and prosperity.”
Prince Turki praised Prince Salman, who is chairman of the King Abdul Aziz Museum (Darat), for attending the seminar, adding that it shows the governor’s interest in documenting the Kingdom’s history. “I am sure this seminar would shed light on different aspects of King Faisal’s life and history. There will be 34 researchers presenting papers at the seminar,” the prince said.
The King Faisal Center for Research & Islamic Studies (KFCRIS) is also to hold an exhibition on King Faisal titled “Witness & Martyr” on the sidelines of the seminar. New information and documents about the king have been collected from several countries, including the US and Britain. On display will be the king’s possessions and speeches, and films and pictures about him.
The exhibition will continue at the National Museum of the King Abdul Aziz Historical Center for two months. It will later move to Abha, where the king spent his early days. After 45 days, the exhibition will move to Makkah where it will stay until the Haj season.
“Everybody knows that King Faisal was the deputy of King Abdul Aziz in Hejaz. He had an office and a home in Makkah for several years,” Turki said.
The show will then move to the Eastern Province whose development the king contributed to.
He founded the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals and the King Faisal University and launched many other welfare projects in the region.
During his time, Saudi Arabia bought shares of American companies in Aramco. “Purchasing shares of foreign companies working in the oil sector, including Aramco, was the brainchild of King Faisal... he proposed the idea of participation, instead of nationalization. He was against the idea of nationalization, not only considering its economic and scientific aspects but also moral aspects. After his death, the Kingdom purchased all shares of foreign companies in Aramco.”
The exhibition will move from the Eastern Province to neighboring Gulf and Arab countries. King Faisal played a significant role in the independence and development of the GCC countries, Turki said. The exhibition will later visit some major Arab, Islamic and international capitals.
Speaking about his close association with King Faisal, Turki said: “I had the honor of working with King Faisal as an adviser at the Royal Court in the last two years of his life in the mid-1970s. Being deputy chief of the office for external communication I used to carry messages from the king to world leaders.”
Asked about King Faisal’s leadership qualities, Turki said, “King Abdul Aziz had identified such leadership qualities in his son and had vested his full confidence in him.” He added that the king found time to spend with his family members in Riyadh and Jeddah. “During our meetings we discussed important current events, politics and cultural matters,” he added.
Analysts and historians differ on the most important decisions taken by King Faisal. “I believe that the king’s most important achievement was his service to his father during the Kingdom’s unification. He was also the king’s deputy in the Hejaz for several years. He served his brother King Saud holding different positions such as prime minister, deputy prime minister and foreign minister. He worked for strengthening the unity of the Saudi people. He helped his father when he encountered different challenges during and after the unification. He learned how to face extremism and the influence of communism in the region,” he said, adding that King Faisal was successful in steering the country through turbulent events. He was the first Saudi ruler to introduce the five-year development plan in 1970.
Prince Turki said King Faisal had worked for the liberation of Arab and Islamic countries from colonialism. “At the time of Saudi Arabia’s foundation in 1932, there were only two independent countries in the Arab world: Saudi Arabia and Yemen. All other Arab countries from the east to the west were colonies of foreign colonialists including France and Britain.
On the directions of King Abdul Aziz, King Faisal worked with his brother King Saud to support liberation movements in Arab and Islamic countries to end colonial rule. He had also made substantial contributions toward setting out policies and principles to promote regional cooperation and establish the Arab League and the United Nations. During his time, the Kingdom also participated in the Non-Aligned Movement.”