Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel Al Jubeir11 November 2017 | 06:01 | CNBC
Adel Al Jubeir: We hope not. What the, the missile was Iranian built, it was similar to a missile that was launched against the city of Yanbu on the 22nd of July. It's a carrying missile, has a range of over 900 kilometres. It was smuggled into Yemen in parts and then assembled in Yemen we believe by the Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah experts and then it was launched at our city. We believe that the missile that landed in Riyadh is of a similar make and we hold Iran responsible for this. They're the ones who provided the missiles in violation of U.N. Security Council resolution 22:16. We believe that it was Iranian experts and Hezbollah experts who taught and coordinated the attack against Saudi Arabia. So we believe that this could be considered an act of war.
HG : President Trump tore up a historic nuclear agreement with Iran earlier this year. There is a lot of concern that the Iranians are moving to a nuclear weapon. Is this about a race against the clock? Is this about getting and basically neutralizing Iran before they can become a nuclear power ?
Adel Al Jubeir : It's about fixing a deal that needed to be fixing. The nuclear agreement was weak. It has a sunset provision which expires 12 years after the signing of the agreement which lifts the restrictions on how many centrifuges Iran can have. The Iranians theoretically could have 50,000 to 100,000 centrifuges. They can produce enough enriched material for a bomb within weeks and this is a very, very dangerous. The other provisions that need to be tightened are the inspections provisions, to include non-declared sites and military sites and we would like to see the International Atomic Energy Agency do a much more robust job in dealing with this. That's with regard to the nuclear agreement. The other part has to do with Iran's behaviour, its support for terrorism and its ballistic missile program, both of which are violations of international resolutions and so we would like to see sanctions on Iran for its support of terrorism and sanctions on Iran for violating the ballistic missile resolutions of the United Nations. When you combine those three, fixing the, the nuclear agreement and holding Iran accountable for its support of terrorism and for its ballistic missile program, then I think we have an effective way of dealing with Iran.
HG : Ok. What about... So what about Lebanon because you have Saad Hariri resigning as prime minister from Riyadh just a few days ago and you have the Gulf Affairs Minister for Saudi Arabia essentially saying that this country is at war with Lebanon. Is this going to be a situation where Saudi Arabia attacks Hezbollah? What measures are you going to take with regards to Lebanon?
Adel Al Jubeir : The situation in Lebanon is unfortunate. It is a result of Hezbollah's activities supported by Iran. Hezbollah continues to maintain its militia even though it should hand over its weapons. There can be no militia outside the scope of government institutions. Hezbollah has put roadblocks in front of every initiative that Prime Minister Hariri tried to implement. Hezbollah pretty much hijacked the Lebanese system and Hezbollah has been the instrument that Iran uses to dominate Lebanon. The instrument that Iran uses to interfere in Syria with Hamas and with the Houthis. And so we see Hezbollah's mischief all over the region. Hezbollah has been responsible for smuggling weapons into Bahrain. Hezbollah is involved in criminal activities such as drug dealing and money laundering.
HG : But would you consider taking direct action against Hezbollah?
Adel Al Jubeir: We are saying that the world has to make sure that we designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. There can be no difference between a political wing and the military wing. This is not, this is a bird with one body and one mind. And Hezbollah needs to be designated, the world needs to take actions in terms of curtailing their activities and the world needs to push back against them wherever they operate. That's what we're saying. We cannot allow Lebanon to be a platform from which harm comes to Saudi Arabia. The Lebanese people are innocent. The Lebanese people have been dominated by Hezbollah and we need to find a way to help the Lebanese people come out from under the thumb of Hezbollah.
HG : Are you considering cutting diplomatic ties with Lebanon?
Adel Al Jubeir : We're looking at various options and we're consulting with our friends and allies around the world to see what the most effective ways is of dealing with them ..(inaudible).. Hezbollah.
HG : Talk to me a little bit about your allies here because the United States government has expressed for support for Saudi Arabia given Iran's aggression. At the same time they've expressed support for the government of Lebanon in terms of more money and weapons as well. How do you square this? Is this a conflicting narrative? Can they do both at the same time?
Adel Al Jubeir : The U.S. wants to help the Lebanese government be strong and be independent. So do we. The U.S. wants to curtail Hezbollah's influence in Lebanon. So do we. The U.S. wants to push back hard against Hezbollah and its terrorist activities and its criminal activities. And so do we, so I don't see a difference between the positions of our two governments. We have made it clear that we cannot allow Lebanon to be a base from which attacks against Saudi Arabia take place and we are urging the Lebanese and the Lebanese government in particular to take firm and resolute actions against Hezbollah.
Hadley : When you look at what's happening in the broader region, President Sisi of Egypt has come out and expressed support for Saudi Arabia. At the same time he said that it's not a good idea to attack Hezbollah. He doesn't want to see anything that destabilises the region further. What do you think about those comments?
Adel Al Jubeir: I think it's in line with what everybody is thinking. We, we are saying we have to find ways to curtail Hezbollah's influence and its mischief and we have to find ways to push back against Hezbollah's terrorist activities and its involvement in the affairs of other countries at the behest of Iran. And there is no contradiction in the positions.
HG : Would Saudi Arabia to be prepared to go it alone and take on Hezbollah directly without Egypt?
Adel Al Jubeir : I think we have, we have a large number of countries around the world if not all countries, with the exception of possibly Iran, that are against Hezbollah's terrorist activities and that are against Hezbollah hijacking the Lebanese state. So we're not alone in this.
HG : Talk to me a little bit about the possibilities there including Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he stands shoulder to shoulder with his Arab friends when it comes to Iranian aggression. Is there truth to the rumours that Israel and Saudi Arabia could be working together to tackle Hezbollah?
Adel Al Jubeir : I can't comment on rumours, but what I do know is that Iran is an outlaw state, that Iran is the number one state sponsor of terrorism, that Iran harbours terrorists, that Iran was in cahoots with Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden since the 1990s, that Al-Qaeda's virtual board of directors fled to Iran in 2002 and have been living there ever since. They have directed terrorist operations including against Saudi Arabia from Iran while they were there. The order to blow up the three housing compounds in Riyadh came from Saif al-Adel, who's their head of their operations, while he was in Iran in a phone call which we incidentally have on tape. There is, the evidence is irrefutable. Iran has attacked and blown up more than 12 embassies in Iran in violation of international laws and norms. Iran has assassinated diplomats around the world including a number of Saudi diplomats. Iran has staged terrorist attacks in Europe and South America and throughout the Middle East. So Iran is an outlaw state. Iran needs to be held accountable for the mischief it's causing. Iran is recruiting people and sending militias to fight in Syria and in, Iran is interfering in Iraq. Iran is smuggling weapons into Bahrain. Iran is involved with the Houthis in Yemen. Iran is all over the place in a very negative and very hostile way.
HG : And given that, would there then be the possibility for a potential alliance with Israel when it comes to taking on Iran?
Adel Al Jubeir : The whole world is determined to push back against Iran.
HG : Talk to me a little bit about what's been happening over the last several days here. It's been a massive crackdown on corruption. 1,800 bank accounts have been frozen. This is at a time that Saudi Arabia is really looking for international investment. Are you worried that the international community are going to begin to question that transparency given the fact that there hasn't been an official release of the names of the people involved in the investigation and there hasn't been a release of the charges?
Adel Al Jubeir : Quite the contrary. I think that this will increase investor confidence in Saudi Arabia because it shows that we have adopted a zero tolerance policy on corruption just as we have adopted a zero tolerance policy on terrorism and extremism and terror financing. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced ..(inaudible).. announced more than two and a half years ago that he will fight corruption and fight it robustly. His Royal Highness the Crown Prince has made it very clear that no prince and no minister and no high ranking official is immune from corruption charges. The public prosecutor started an investigation two and a half years ago and unearthed a large number of cases of individuals who are involved in corruption and the decision was made to bring these people in for questioning and to confront them with the evidence and to deal with this issue in a very resolute manner. A sizable percentage of our budget we discovered was being stolen and this cannot stand. Where you have corruption, you cannot have justice, you cannot have investment, you cannot have the efficient and transparent government. I believe that the international community will be very, very pleased that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is not only transparent, not only firm, but has actually taken decisive action against individuals who robbed public goods. And the reason the names have not been announced is under our legal system, we don't publicize names until after the verdicts are out. And this process is still ongoing. The questioning is ongoing. The individuals will have trials in accordance with our laws just like everybody else and they will be held accountable. So this is a hugely important step for Saudi Arabia. Now foreign investors can come in Saudi Arabia and compete on an equal footing with everybody else.
HG : There's been conflicting reports about just what happened with the arrest of His Royal Highness Prince Abdulaziz. Could you clarify what exactly happened ?
Adel Al Jubeir : I can't comment on the individual cases I leave that to the public prosecutor.
HG : There's also a question of, we're talking about something like $800 billion dollars worth of assets that are either in Saudi Arabia or abroad belonging to those who are under investigation. Is this really about corruption or is this really about getting the cash? Because those funds you guys can really use right now, especially with vision 2030.
Adel Al Jubeir : Yeah, I can't again comment on numbers and so forth I leave that to the public prosecutor and I think in time people will know. The bottom line is: money was stolen from the public treasury and that robbed the country of the ability to invest it for the good of its people. And so of course people have to return the funds that were stolen.
HG: So when you look at what's happened over the last several days, it is an unprecedented move from the government. This was a very large crackdown. What does it mean for the future of this country ?
Adel Al Jubeir : It means that the country is moving on the right track, that the country is opening up, that the country is implementing its 2020 national transformation plan to make government more efficient, more transparent, more accountable. How can it do that if we don't deal with corruption? It means we have we have to empower our youth. We empower women. We moderate. We adopt and push for a moderate Islam so that people can live normal lives in our country. They can, they can realize their hopes and dreams and ambitions and in the process make our country much greater than it is. And so this, this, the issue of corruption is critically important to this and I think when you look at the total changes that have occurred in Saudi Arabia over the last two years, these are vast changes, and tremendous changes that will transform our nation and make us into a stronger, much more dynamic society.
HG : And finally... You yourself were the target of an assassination attempt by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. How much of this is personal for you?
Adel Al Jubeir : None of it is personal. This is all about serving your country and protecting your country's interests. The fact is, as I mentioned earlier, Iran's track record is incredible in terms of terrorism and assassinations and death and destruction. Iran is on a rampage and has been since the Khomeini revolution in 1979. And until and unless Iran behaves like a normal country that respects international laws, that respects the sovereignty of nations, that respects the principle of good neighbourliness and non-interference in the affairs of other countries, it would be impossible for people to deal with Iran. The Iranians have to decide if they are a revolution or a nation state. So far they have decided they're a revolution on a rampage trying to expand. And that's not acceptable.
HG: Your Excellency thank you so much for joining CNBC.
Adel Al Jubeir: Always a pleasure.
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