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The Saudi Ambassador, Optimism on Iraq, Pessimism on Iran

On Thursday Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S., gave a luncheon speech put on by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and the Economic Club of Chicago. I didn't find anything he said on Wahhabism or Islamic extremism new or revealing, as the proof is always more in the actions in the region as opposed to what is said to non-Muslim audiences in Chicago or London. However, Prince Turki did make two remarks that I found interesting.

The first was on the issue of Iran and nukes. Turki reiterated Saudi Arabia's position that the entire region should be free of nuclear weapons, going out of his way to include Israel. This was met with strong applause from approximately 1/4 to 1/3 of the audience of roughly 400 people. The issue of Israel's nuclear capability is going to become a big issue as the effort to prevent a nuclear Iran continues to move down the tracks. Israel is never going to give up their nukes, which gives people who are not serious about stopping a nuclear Iran the argument of "Well, why can Israel have nukes but not Iran?" Of course there is an argument against this logic (for starters, Israel's Prime Minister is not talking about wiping out or eliminating other countries), but to many otherwise reasonable people this is seen as a fair question and a legitimate point.

Al-Faisal's other interesting comment - which I found quite encouraging, as opposed to his position on Iran - was about Iraq. The ambassador went out of his way to say that "the political process has been growing steadily since the removal of Saddam Hussein" and that the government being put together in Baghdad is "truly legitimate and representative of the Iraqi people." I found this to be an unexpected boost of support for the U.S. effort in Iraq, and coupled with the news that the stalemate over the new Iraqi PM may be over, perhaps there is reason for some guarded optimism about the eventual acceptance of a unified Iraqi government.

Of course, I'm aware that the Prince and Saudi Arabia may have their own selfish reasons for wanting to see a stable and functioning Iraq. The last thing the House of Saud wants is Shiite Iran essentially take over a Lebanonized Iraq. But regardless of Prince Turki's motivations, the more governments, institutions and people who see the new Iraqi government as truly "legitimate and representative," the higher the U.S. odds of success.