WASHINGTON – Saudi Arabia's foreign minister says the Bush administration did not heed some Saudi warnings on occupying Iraq and that he doesn't believe a new constitution and elections will solve the emerging nation's problems.
Prince Saud al-Faisal (search) also said his country was still holding out the prospect of a peace treaty with Israel, but could have no diplomatic contact in the meantime, as other Arab and Muslim countries have had. He said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) has not acted on opportunities for peacemaking after his withdrawal from Gaza (search).
"He does something and then immediately goes to the United Nations and makes a speech saying, 'I am not going to do this, I am not going to do that,'" Saud told The Associated Press.
"We are not establishing relations just for the heck of it," he added. "It would be false because we are in a state of conflict."
In a wide-ranging interview Thursday, Saud said he'd like to see oil prices drop about $20 a barrel from their current $60-plus range, but predicted a lack of refineries will keep consumer prices higher even if crude becomes cheaper.
On Iraq, the foreign minister expressed skepticism at Bush administration officials' predictions that the upcoming political events in Iraq would heal the country's divisions.
"Perhaps what they are saying is going to happen," he said. "I wish it would happen, but I don't think that a constitution by itself will resolve the issues, or an election by itself will solve the difficult problems."
U.S. policies in Iraq risk dividing the country into three separate parts: Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite, he cautioned.
"We have not seen a move inside Iraq that would satisfy us that the national unity of Iraq, and therefore the territorial unity of Iraq, will be assured," he said.
He also said the Saudis were skeptical of the outcome before the United States went to war in Iraq, but its concerns weren't always heeded.
"It is frustrating to see something that is clearly going to happen and you are not listened to by a friend and soon harm comes out of it," Saud said. "It hurts."
The foreign minister said his kingdom was not ready to send an ambassador to Baghdad because the diplomat would become an immediate target for assassination.
"I doubt that he'd last a day," Saud said.
At the United Nations, Iraq's foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari said in an interview that neighboring Syria is largely to blame for the continuing violence in his country.
Syria, he asserted, is refusing to stop insurgents and foreign fighters from entering Iraq because it fears Iraq's effort to build a democratic nation in the heart of the Middle East and wants to see it fail.
"They and others are frightened really of this experiment to succeed. This is the bottom line. They don't want these values, these ideas to take root in a country like Iraq. This may affect them," Zebari said.
Saud, in the interview with the AP, also made clear that the kingdom's offer to Israel of peace with all Arab countries if it relinquished all the land the Arabs lost in the 1967 war remains on the table.
By withdrawing Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza, Saud said, Sharon seemed willing to turn from being "a general who wants to conquer territory" to making peace.
Instead, Saud said, Sharon is making demands of the Palestinian Authority that he knows cannot be met.
"The Palestinian Authority has been decimated by Mr. Sharon himself; they are weak because of what he did to them, and now he is insisting they disarm Hamas and (Islamic) Jihad," Saud said.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas does not have the troops to do it, Saud said.
Ministers from nearly a dozen Arab and Muslim countries, including Qatar, Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia, have met with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. Saud said his government would not follow their lead.
"We have not signed a peace treaty. How can you establish relations? How is that conceivable? How can it be trusted?" he said.
With oil prices rising amid disruption of Gulf Coast crude oil production and refining due to the Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Saud rejected suggestions of an oil shortage and said prices should drop to $40 to $45 a barrel from over $65.
"The oil industry does not suffer from a lack of oil," Saud said.
He cited a lack of refineries in the United States and elsewhere and said Saudi Arabia had sought to help build a U.S. refinery, but had no takers.
"We are adding barrels of oil on the market," Saud said. "The price of oil will go down." He predicted prices would decline significantly by next summer.