Cablegate: Saudi Foreign Minister On the Situation in Pakistan
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O 021550Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY RIYADH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7324
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
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RUEHJI/AMCONSUL JEDDAH IMMEDIATE 9329
S E C R E T RIYADH 000007
EO 12958 DECL: 01/01/2018
TAGS CIA, KGCC, PGOV, PHUM, PINR, PK, PREL, PTER, SA
SUBJECT: SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTER ON THE SITUATION IN PAKISTAN
REF: SECSTATE 170928
Classified By: Ambassador Ford Fraker for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (S) SUMMARY. The Ambassador delivered reftel demarche on the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal at a meeting at the Foreign Ministry January 2. Commenting on the current situation in Pakistan, Prince Saud voiced strong support for holding parliamentary elections. He added that a limited postponement of the elections until February is acceptable, taking into account the current situation. He advised that the Pakistanis should be allowed to resolve their internal political differences without overt, external interference. The Foreign Minister described former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as “a force for stability” and “a man who can speak across party lines even to religious extremists.” END SUMMARY.
2. (S) The Ambassador delivered the demarche contained in reftel regarding Benazir Bhutto’s assassination to Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal on January 2. Responding to the demarche, Prince Saud characterized Pakistan’s current internal situation as “serious and tense,” and described the current political environment there as “poisonous.” He emphasized the need to maintain stability, noting that the key challenge for President Musharraf is to maintain the unity of the Pakistani armed forces. He voiced strong support for holding planned parliamentary elections, but also said that a limited postponement would be acceptable, given the current situation in the country. Postponing the elections could be “an opportunity for the Pakistanis to talk things out,” he said. Prince Saud cautioned that Pakistan must be allowed to resolve its current political crisis internally, without overt, external pressure.
3. (S) Commenting on the Bhutto assasination, Prince Saud observed that he had been afraid of just such an outcome ever since the former Prime Minister had decided to return to Pakistan. He then cautioned that the USG must not be seen publicly to be influencing Pakistan’s internal affairs, lest it inadvertently inflame matters by provoking Islamist extremists to further violence. “People talk about the extremists we have here, but I think they are much worse in Pakistan,” he commented.
4. (S) The Foreign Minister stated that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is a force for stability, in his opinion. He called Sharif a leader who can speak across party lines, even to religious extremists who are not usually open to dialogue. In Prince Saud’s view, Sharif can play an important role in stabiizing Pakistan.
5. (S) These views stand in marked contrast to those of Saudi Ambassador to the US Adel al-Jubeir. In a December 31 conversation with the DCM, al-Jubeir was highly critical of Sharif, stating in particular that Sharif had violated a promise made to King Abdullah by publicly calling for President Musharraf to step down. Accrding to al-Jubeir, prior to his return to Pakistan, Sharif had promised the King to avoid questioning Musharraf’s recent political decisions in public. Jubeir also compared Pakistan’s current situation to Saudi Arabia in 2003, when the Kingdom witnessed a violent campaign by terrorists linked to a-Qaeda. He explained that the SAG was able to push back and eventually quell this extremism, in large part by convincing the Kingdom’s religious scholars to condemn terrorism strongly. Jubeir expresed the hope that a similar outcome is possible in Pakistan.
6. (S) COMMENT. The contrast between the views of the Foreign Minister and Ambassador al-Jubeir are worth noting, since they probably indicate that the senior levels of the Saudi government are still debating what the Kingdom’s Pakistan policy should be in the aftermath of the Bhutto asassination. It is likely that al-Jubeir’s views more closely reflect those of King Abdullah, his patron. END COMMENT. FRAKER