Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Prince Bandar, Bush Campaign Spokesman, Phones In 

In case anyone missed this Larry King, which has to be one of the more surreal television moments of all time:

KING: We have made the connection. With us on the phone is Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia. Who wants to go first? Do you hear Bob OK, Prince?

WOODWARD: Have you read the book, ambassador?

BANDAR BIN SULTAN, SAUDI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: No, but I read snippets of it.

WOODWARD: The parts pertaining to you, and there seems to be some contention about this meeting January 11 in the White House. You know, Don Rumsfeld is on record saying he looked you in the eye and said, "you can take this to the bank, Ambassador, this is going to happen," and the "this" is the war plan. And...

KING: I'll let him respond to that part. Prince, is that true?

BIN SULTAN: Larry, number one, Bob Woodward is a first class journalist and reporter. And ...

KING: OK, and number two?

BIN SULTAN: And number two, I will never contradict Bob Woodward.


KING: So what's number three?

BIN SULTAN: And number three is, what he said is accurate. However, there was one sentence that was left out.

KING: And that is?

BIN SULTAN: Both Vice President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld told me before the briefing that the president has not made a decision yet, but here is the plan, and then the rest is accurate.

WOODWARD: Then why would they say, "You can take this to the bank, it's going to happen," and then, as I understand it, the vice president said, "when this starts Saddam is toast." Is that correct?

BIN SULTAN: This is absolutely correct, but underlined when, because my response was last time we tried this, we left Saddam in place, and I don't think anybody in the Middle East would like to try this again if Saddam would stay in place, and that's the rest of the story. So what Bob said was accurate, except that I was informed that the president has not made a decision yet.

WOODWARD: But then why would they have the meeting to contradict what you're saying, Ambassador? And you have not read the transcripts of my interview with the president, and the president said to you that the message they sent to you was his message. This is, you know, as everyone knew, there was extensive planning going on for war. Why would they have this meeting to tell you a maybe? Doesn't make sense.

BIN SULTAN: Because the whole aspect is that the president, if I make the decision, this plan, you can take it also to the bank, like what's his name, Rumsfeld, said.

Remember, Bob, I was briefed by Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and by General Powell about Plan 1001, and at that time, we were not sure if the Americans...

WOODWARD: This was for the first Gulf War.

BIN SULTAN: ... were going to go to war or not.

WOODWARD: Right. And -- but they didn't tell you, "You can take this to the bank, this is going to happen." I, you know, if we were to get out the...

KING: Let's ask it this way. Prince Bandar, after that meeting, did you think they were going to war?

BIN SULTAN: I was -- to be honest with you, not sure, but I was -- my gut feeling was telling me that if Saddam Hussein does not respond the right way, yes, they were going to go to war, but I can -- must emphasize that this is January. Between January and March, everybody emphasized to me that they want to go to the U.N. They want to try all other venues. But if Saddam does not respond positively, then they have to be ready. I think this president was thinking, "I cannot bluff," and President Johnson always, I was told, said, "Don't tell a fellow to go to hell unless you intend to send him there," and I think President Bush was intending to send Saddam to hell if he does not respond.

KING: Let me get in one more thing, Prince Bandar.

BIN SULTAN: Yes, sir.

KING: The story that Mr. Woodward has about the promise to lower the oil prices by the election. Your government has denied has.

WOODWARD: That's not my story. What I say in the book is that the Saudis, and maybe you looked at this section of the book, Ambassador, that the Saudis hoped to keep oil prices low during the period for -- before the election, because of its impact on the economy. That's what I say.

BIN SULTAN: I think the way that Bob said it now is accurate. We hoped that the oil prices will stay low, because that's good for America's economy, but more important, it's good for our economy and the international economy, and this is not -- nothing unusual. President Clinton asked us to keep the prices down in the year 2000. In fact, I can go back to 1979, President Carter asked us to keep the prices down to avoid the malaise. So yes, it's in our interests and in America's interests to keep the prices down.

KING: Do you want President Bush...

BIN SULTAN: But that was not a deal.

KING: Do you want President Bush to be reelected?

BIN SULTAN: We always want any president who is in office to be reelected, Larry, but that is the American choice. This is not our call. This is the American people's call.

KING: OK, I think we've cleared up...

WOODWARD: Could I just, I'm sorry to go back on this, but Prince Bandar, why would the president tell me on the record two days later that he called Colin Powell in and said he had decided on war? This was a 12-minute meeting. I went through this for some time with the president, and then the president would ask Powell, "will you be with me?" And Powell said, "I will be with you. I will support a war," and then the president said to former General Powell, now Secretary of State Powell, "time to put your war uniform on."

I know that Powell left that meeting saying, he's going to do it. He had made that decision, and you look at what Rumsfeld has said and others, and as you may be aware, there might be tape recordings that would show that the version I have is the accurate one. What's going on here?

BIN SULTAN: Bob, I believe Secretary Powell/General Powell's response does not surprise me. He's a very loyal soldier and a statesman. And I believe he puts a lot of weight on loyalty, and he disdains disloyalty. Therefore, I believe if your account is accurate, which I have no reason to discount it, that general -- Secretary Powell told the president his views. Once the commander in chief made his mind up, General Powell -- Secretary Powell decided it's right to support the commander-in-chief.

KING: I got to get a break.

BIN SULTAN: That is the only thing I can say about this.

KING: Thank you, Prince Bandar, thank you for responding to our call. That's Prince Bandar, the ambassador from Saudi Arabia.

We'll be back with Bob Woodward right after this.


KING: Just for the record, the prince called in. We did not call him, the Prince Bandar. Bandar called in to speak to you.


WOODWARD: ... years going back to Nixon. I've heard all of them. This goes in the hall of fame. This does, because what he says is yes your account of the meeting saying you can take it to the bank is accurate, but we had a discussion before saying the president hasn't decided. I mean, why would you have that discussion before, and then go through the charade of a meeting saying oh, can you count on this and you can take it to the bank, and he's going to be toast?

I mean, that goes in the hall of fame of dodges and fishy explanations. I think it should get an Academy Award.

KING: You think your confirmation is the president.

WOODWARD: Well, I know the president confirms it. And as I suggested to him, there are all kinds of interviews and with the tape recorder on the table, I did, with people about NEVILLE: is, and I have no doubt. I mean, as you're saying, you don't go to somebody and say, "I'm going to tell you you can take it to the bank, but I really mean maybe," and then go in and say, "can you take it to the bank, and he's going to be toast." It goes in the hall of fame. Congratulation, Bandar.


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