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Following are excerpts from a CNBC interview at the Ambrosetti Forum in Italy, with Julia Chatterley and Prince Turki Al-Faisal.
JC: I have to start by asking about the oil market - last time oil producers met, it seemed to be the Saudis who walked away - do you think situation now has changed - the country willing to decide on some kind of freeze?
A: The issue of oil is obviously an important one, for the world and Saudi Arabia - wrong to say Saudi Arabia walked away from agreement. Saudi Arabia is seeking holistic approach to oil production/oil prices. Kingdom urging other producers: if want common policy on oil, should all agree on it not leave to chance. An example: Russia coordinated with Saudi on having an oil freeze- Iraq and Iran then refused to agree to freeze. Will be the same proposition at the next OPEC meeting- all oil producers should have a role in decisions- whether to freeze production, cut production, raise prices etc.
JC: So the risk once again in Algeria, is that the Saudis are on board, Russians on-board but the situation let down by Iran/Iraq?
A: I hope not- I have seen statements indicating both would be willing coming along. That would be the best situation for everybody.
JC: There are those that look at Saudi output, at record highs, and wonder if you are really willing to freeze at this moment when output is at record highs- a dichotomy there?
A: I see no dichotomy at all- if all agree to freeze then no one loses market share. Danger is that if say Saudi cuts down production, there will be others that step in and provide own oil. If there is a holistic approach to this and an equal responsibility undertaken by all countries for a freeze then everyone comes out on a fair basis.
JC: Way other people looking at this too is to say you have $15 billion bond deal later, the Aramco privatisation. So actually this is a point where the kingdom goes: oil price being high is going to be beneficial in many ways for us. Would you agree with that?
A: I think not just for kingdom but for all oil producers. Consistent Saudi policy since OPEC established is that prices should be reasonably set so people can afford them. Everyone talks about economies of India, China etc. and of course the US but Saudi is equally concerned with the poorer countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America whose economies cannot afford high price of oil. Where having reasonable agreement that suits poor and rich buyers, that will be acceptable to Saudi Arabia.
JC: I want to talk about bond deal- seems excitement, especially from Asia, from investors that want to invest in Saudi debt. Can you confirm that your seeing strong interest?
A: Well I'm not an official so I'm not aware of what is happening from that position, but I read the papers like you and the Kingdom has been seeking to open up its markets to investors from abroad- whether stocks/bond issues or direct investments in projects/construction/various attractive propositions the government is proposing. So the stock market is in the process of being opened up to outside investors, going to bring a lot of outside interest from people. The bond market, as you say- the government is seeking to borrow money, including from outside sources, so that will be an added customer if you like that will come in from Europe, America, not just from Asia.
JC: What about Saudi diversifying- do you want to see accelerated progress, investing in assets in the US, for example, think for that relationship quite pivotal to see Saudi investing and helping infrastructure needs in US?
A: There are two aspects to this- when is private investment, of course that controlled by private individual. Over the years Saudis have invested all over the world, more particularly of course in the US. That is going on and has never been affected by the price of oil or other such issues. The other of course is what the government programme, Vision 2030, is geared towards, which is to establish a sovereign wealth fund that will use Saudi assets like Aramco and other assets within Saudi Arabia, whether real estate or other projects that gov owns, to create a fund that will then invest in profitable business- if is US infrastructure then that will be case, if it is China or Europe -that will be decided by the value of the investment and the return from it.
JC: Obviously when we last spoke in Davos, we spoke a great deal about the situation in Syria and you said the international community was not doing enough despite having the means to tackle this issue. I just want to ask where you feel we are now and in line with that, Donald trump made a comment that President Obama created a power vacuum in the region in line with Hillary Clinton, her foreign policy, and that helped spur the growth in Islamic State- I just wondered if you can in some way identify with that and sort of what needs to change?
A: The Syrian tragedy is continuing- what I said back in the winter on the world not doing enough is still there. If you remember back in September/October/November of last year, meetings were held in Vienna, Geneva to try to establish a cease fire. Unfortunately having agreed on a ceasefire – they wouldn't even call it a cease fire- then continued to fight, whether it was Bashar al Assad continuing and abrogating that cessation of hostilities or the Russians bombing at their own discretion at groups they identify as being terrorists but in fact they are legitimate nationalist movements that oppose the authoritarian rule of Bashar al Assad. And so the world is still, I think in its shameful place of not doing enough to stop the killing. And if I can blame anybody for what we're in today I would blame us all. I would not put the blame simply on President Obama or Secretary Clinton or any individual or country. I think the whole world, as I said, is shamefully negligent in preventing the killing- and they can do it. Imagine if the Russians and the Americans and the Saudi's and the Turks and the Iranians and the Europeans got together and said: no more killing and we're serious. That would be the way to stop what is going on. But unfortunately it is not happening.
JC: How long does that take?
A: I don't know. I don't know. But I hope not for another half a million Syrians to be killed. Because this is how much has been done and destruction. How many refugees have gone out: Millions. How many displaced Syrians have taken to flight: Millions, and it just continues. And the world just sits back, argues with each other, we see Secretaries of State visiting each other. We see conferences and we see Friends of Syria meeting. We see statements and so on. But the fighting is continuing. That is unacceptable.
JC: Your Royal Highness thank you so much for speaking to us.
A: Thank you. Thank you.
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