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Interview With Prince Bandar bin Sultan

Aired May 14, 2003 - 19:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, both the U.S. and Saudis have said they did have warnings but were still unable to stop Monday's terror attacks that killed 34 people, including eight Americans.
The attacks have raised new questions about Saudi Arabia that may seem awfully familiar. We have heard these questions before. We've heard questions about cooperation and the relation between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia after the Khobar Towers bombing as well as after September 11.

A short while ago, I spoke with the Saudi prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. From Riyadh.


COOPER: Prince Bandar, when 19 Americans were killed back in 1996 at Khobar Towers, there were a lot of promises of cooperation by Saudi officials toward the U.S. investigators, promises of full cooperation.

A lot of the U.S. officials later said the promises were broken. I just talked to one investigator earlier in the day who said that the level of cooperation was not adequate.

We now have another bombing, more Americans dead, more promises of cooperation. Is it going to be different this time?

PRINCE BANDAR BIN SULTAN, SAUDI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Thank you for the question. Number one, I would like to express my condolences to the families who lost loved ones in this tragic and evil, cowardly attack in our country, and my people and our guests and friends like the Americans and other people from other countries.

I can assure you that during the Khobar investigations we cooperated 100 percent. And we, both sides, our professionals were satisfied. And I ask you to go and interview judge Louis Freeh and he will tell you the truth.

Things broke down because when we got to a critical moment where Washington was telling us, give us everything and let the chips fall where they may, and we were telling them maybe you don't like what you see and finally when they saw what we had, they dropped the ball and that's where we are now. However...

COOPER: Let me just interrupt you, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno -- Let me just interrupt you. Back then, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno expressed frustration with the level of cooperation, but let's talk about it now specifically.

Will U.S. investigators be granted access to the site? Will they be allowed to directly interview witnesses and will they be allowed to interview any suspects in custody?

BIN SULTAN: Right. Janet Reno was a great lady and I liked her personally, but go and ask Judge Louis Freeh and he will tell you the facts.

As far as what's happening now, we are determined to fight those criminals who perpetrated the attack this time. Those people have attacked not just Americans. They've attacked Saudis, Muslims Christians, two children from Jordan, two babies were killed.

COOPER: Right, but the question is will investigators be allowed direct access, the kind of level of access they say they need to conduct a proper investigation?

BIN SULTAN: Of course they will. Not because it is demanded from us, because it is the logical thing. We are fighting the same enemy. We will cooperate. We are cooperating with our friends and allies of the United States and other countries to find those people, so, I can assure you there will be 100 percent cooperation.

COOPER: All right. Let me ask you about some comments made by...

BIN SULTAN: I assure you there will be 100 percent cooperation.

COOPER: Let me ask you about some comments made by the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Robert Jordan, this morning. He said he specifically asked Saudi officials for more protection on this compound that was then bombed. He did this, you know, after this terror warning was issued on May 1. You guys were hunting for 19 militants in your country and he asked for protection and it wasn't given. Why was that?

BIN SULTAN: Our security agencies took matters. When they investigated this place they found it had adequate security. The proof of that is when the attack took place in that compound, unfortunately, sadly, the two guards, one Saudi air force guard, and one civilian were killed, but the physical barriers stopped that attack to hurt people inside.

COOPER: In past years, the Saudi government has often put the focus of blame elsewhere, saying that any violence in the country has been caused by outsiders.

Now we have a situation of obviously, we know 15 of the 19 hijackers in 9/11 were Saudi citizens, Osama bin Laden is a Saudi citizen, or was, and now you are looking for 17 Saudi citizens out of 19 militants in the country.

Are you willing to admit that there is a problem in Saudi Arabia with al Qaeda and with extremism?

BIN SULTAN: Yes, we have a lot of evidence that this group is from al Qaeda. And we are determined to find them because they are against not just Americans, they are against Saudis, Arabs, Muslims and they are a pariah within our society. So the crown prince's declaration yesterday is very significant because we're going to go after them until we put an end to this evil cancer.

COOPER: All right. Prince Bandar, thanks very much.

BIN SULTAN: I hear you very well.



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