August 2nd, 2015
10:56 AM ET

Former U.S. Amb to Saudi Arabia, Robert Jordan, speaks with Fareed Zakaria about Saudi Arabia's new king and more

The following transcript is of an interview by host Fareed Zakaria with former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Robert Jordan. They discussed his thoughts on Saudi Arabia’s recent military actions, his description of the new Saudi Arabia king, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and how he ended up as the U.S. Amb to Saudi Arabia.

MANDATORY CREDIT for reference and usage: “CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS”

VIDEO HIGHLIGHT

Former ambassador to Saudi Arabia on King Salman

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS

Jordan on the motivation behind Saudi Arabia’s recent military actions: “They have not articulated a strategy.  It does appear that they have - their strategy is to be against Iran at every turn and to presume that Iran's hand is behind every negative act, certainly in their eastern province in Bahrain and now in Yemen.  We haven't seen what the political objective is of the adventure in Yemen, and I think this could really come back to haunt them.”

Jordan’s description of Saudi Arabia’s new king, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud: “He was governor for almost 50 years.  Um, and so he had them started in his 20s.  He was and has been considered one of the least corrupt leaders.  He has been considered probably the hardest working member of the cabinet.  He would be in his office at 8 o'clock every morning.  The story goes that when he was appointed defense minister, he went over to the Ministry of Defense at 8 o'clock and the only person there was the gate guard. The next day, everyone was there at 8 o'clock.”

Jordan on how he ended up as the U.S. Amb to Saudi Arabia: “I asked myself that a number of times.  But as it turns out, the Saudis refused to give diplomatic credentials to a career foreign service officer as Amb to the kingdom.  They want someone who is a friend of the president, who can go over the heads of the bureaucracy, who doesn't have a career to protect and who can actually speak for the president with the king and his leadership.”

FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

POPE FRANCIS (TRANSLATOR): I ask the Lord that he may give us the grace to gain the awareness of this problem of destruction that we ourselves are responsible for.

Saudi Arabia is one of the most secretive countries in the world. Although the place has been home for millennia to Islam's most holy sites...it was just last century that the kingdom emerged from what was essentially a group of warring tribes in the desert.

Saudi Arabia and its intentions are back in the news today for two main reasons: First, if Israel is the nation most upset by a nuclear deal with Iran, by all rights Saudi Arabia should be a close second.  The Sunni monarchy of Saudi Arabia fears a resurgent Shia Iran, in this age of fierce sectarian struggles. Secondly, Saudi Arabia has been bombing rebels in Yemen for more than four months now.

What is going on? To go inside the secretive kingdom and inside the minds of Saudi Arabia's leaders, I asked Robert Jordan to join me.  The Bush White House sent Jordan's nomination to be the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia on September 12, 2001.

Jordan is the author of the new book, Desert Diplomat: Inside Saudi Arabia Following 9/11.

Listen in.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN GPS HOST:  Robert Jordan, thank you for joining us.

ROBERT JORDAN, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SAUDI ARABIA:  Good to be with you, Fareed.

ZAKARIA:  So you were an odd choice for Amb to Saudi Arabia as you yourself say in the book.  You helped Bush in a crucial legal battle. You represented him on a case that essentially won - saved his political career. And from that, how did you, as somebody who had no Middle East experience, didn't speak a word of Arabic, how did you end up in Saudi Arabia?

JORDAN:  I asked myself that a number of times.  But as it turns out, the Saudis refused to give diplomatic credentials to a career foreign service officer as Amb to the kingdom.  They want someone who is a friend of the president, who can go over the heads of the bureaucracy, who doesn't have a career to protect and who can actually speak for the president with the king and his leadership.

ZAKARIA:  You point out that, uh, the United States did not actually have an Amb in Saudi Arabia when 9/11 happened and when the world realized that 15 of the 19 hijackers were, in fact, Saudis.

JORDAN:  Exactly.  My predecessor, Wyche Fowler, had resigned and left office sometime in the early spring of 2001.  So that position was vacant.  And actually, as it turns out, even the deputy chief of mission, Margaret Scobey, arrived for her job as acting Amb only on September the 10th.  So she had her hands full within 24 hours and then I came a few weeks later.

ZAKARIA:  And in dealing with the Saudis, um, give us a picture of, you know, what that was like, because you get there; 9/11 has happened and we all remember this, initially the Saudi official response was, well, maybe these guys weren't Saudis.  And if they were Saudis, we know nothing about it.

JORDAN:  One of my first calls was with then governor of Riyadh, uh, Prince Salman, who is now the king.  His response was very emphatic, this could not have been Saudis.  We couldn't possibly have done this.  This had to have been an Israeli plot.  The Mossad must have done this. I got the same thing from the minister of interior, Prince Naif.  I finally had to bring a CIA briefer out and show some of these princes some compelling evidence that it, indeed, was Saudis who were the hijackers.

ZAKARIA:  But it's disturbing that you say that the current king, his initial reaction, was essentially highly defensive and in a way suggesting that Saudi Arabia did not have this big terrorism problem.

JORDAN:  I think they were in denial, to a great degree, uh, particularly at some of these levels. And it took a great deal of effort on our part to develop the cooperation which finally did come.

ZAKARIA:  And eventually it came because Al Qaeda actually attacked within Saudi Arabia.

JORDAN:  The greatest leap forward was after the bombings on May 12th of 2003, when three Western housing compounds were – got blown up by Al Qaeda operatives. At that point, Crown Prince Abdullah said to me that he understood that they had a problem, that they would take immediate action to capture or kill the attackers and to treat just as harshly anyone who gave them comfort or aid or even tried to justify what they did.

ZAKARIA:  Describe Salman, the current king of Saudi Arabia, because as you said, when he was governor of Riyadh, you dealt with him.

JORDAN:  He was governor for almost 50 years.  Um, and so he had them started in his 20s.  He was and has been considered one of the least corrupt leaders.  He has been considered probably the hardest working member of the cabinet.  He would be in his office at 8 o'clock every morning.  The story goes that when he was appointed defense minister, he went over to the Ministry of Defense at 8 o'clock and the only person there was the gate guard. The next day, everyone was there at 8 o'clock.

ZAKARIA:  Do you think that Saudi actions in the last few years - they have, after all, militarily intervened, one might say invaded two countries, Bahrain and Yemen, for the first time in decades. Is this motivated by a clear thought-through strategy, um, or is this kind of just fear of Iran and all of its influence?

JORDAN:  They have not articulated a strategy.  It does appear that they have - their strategy is to be against Iran at every turn and to presume that Iran's hand is behind every negative act, certainly in their eastern province in Bahrain and now in Yemen.  We haven't seen what the political objective is of the adventure in Yemen, and I think this could really come back to haunt them.

ZAKARIA:  Fascinating set of insights. Robert Jordan, thank you so much for coming on.

JORDAN:  My pleasure, thanks.

 

END INTERVIEW


Topics: CNN • Fareed Zakaria • Fareed Zakaria GPS
tmpl
soundoff (No Responses)

Comments are closed.