Saudi prince discusses kingdom's Iran problem

Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's former head of general intelligence, was on a panel to assess the whole concept of globalization at the World Economic Forum here, but we sat down with him to talk very specifically about his region.

"Two hundred dollars a barrel oil is not going to benefit anyone," he said, talking about the standoff with Iran and the fallout that could come from the sanctions recently placed on its oil sector. "What we need to do is get away from the hyperbole and threatening stances."

The prince once worked as a diplomat for the kingdom, but now that he no longer wears that hat, he is free to express what he feels about his particularly troublesome neighbor, Iran. Beyond resolving the nuclear problem, I asked, what would Saudi Arabia like from Iran?

"We want to see them stop interfering in our affairs,” he said. “They interfere in Iraq, they interfere in Syria, they interfere in Bahrain, they interfere in Saudi Arabia, they occupy the islands of the UAE. And then they tell us to come and talk with them. How are we going to talk if they do these things?"

But the prince believes Iran is feeling singled out in the whole nuclear story and that a “weapons of mass destruction free zone” in the Middle East is the way forward. He would like to see the United Nations Security Council vote on a resolution guaranteeing:

-- a security umbrella for all the countries in the Middle East and Gulf region;

-- economic aid available to those countries that want to pursue a peaceful nuclear energy program;

-- economic and diplomatic sanctions placed upon countries that do not sign on to a deal;

-- military sanctions (i.e. missile strikes) against any country seen to be developing a nuclear weapon, so they can expect dire consequences if they go after a bomb.

The bottom line, he believes, is that Iran has called for a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East, and if Israel gets rid of its weapons, Iran will fall into line.

"We have a saying, 'Follow the liar to his doorstep,'” he said.

In other words, call Iran's bluff on this one. The prince says he thinks there has to be a level playing field and Iran shouldn't feel it is being treated differently from everyone else. And nobody would be happier than the powers in Riyadh to see this all resolved.

"We don't want to be sandwiched between a nuclear state, which is Israel, and a potential nuclear state, which is Iran," he said. The prince said he would love for things to be good with the Saudis’ Persian neighbors.

"Geography is the ruler here. They are our neighbors. We would love to have good relations with them. Imagine the wonderful things that could happen. The cross-Gulf culture and trade. What benefit it could bring to the area!"

World leaders are assembled in Davos to talk about saving the euro, the currency of a union that is meant to guarantee peace on the continent. In the same way, Israel could in theory be part of a powerful Arab-Persian regional economic block. The prince says he doesn't agree, but he doesn't necessarily disagree, either.

"With our brain power, and Jewish wealth,” he says, “we can do wonders."