Saudi King's Delicate Balancing Act

'The Day Will Come When Women Drive'

Although he admits it will take time, Abdullah tells Walters he is committed to broader civil rights for women. Currently, without a man's permission, women are not permitted to drive, attend university, or even have lifesaving surgery. And in the country's first-ever elections in 2004, women were denied the right to vote.

"I believe the day will come when women drive," he said. "In fact, if you look at the areas in Saudi Arabia, the deserts and in the rural areas, you will find that women do drive. ...The issue will require patience. In time, I believe it will be possible. And I believe patience is a virtue."

It's apparent that social policy is a delicate balancing act in the kingdom. When Walters asks whether Abdullah would issue a decree allowing women to drive, he said, "I value and take care of my people as I would my eyes. ... I respect my people and I value their well-being ... It is impossible that I would do anything that is not acceptable to my people."

Concern Over Iraq Conflict and Iran's Positioning for Regional Power

The rising price of oil isn't the only issue causing tensions between the kingdom and the United States. The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, criticized U.S. policy in Iraq last month, saying that Iraq may face disintegration that could ultimately drag the region into war.

Abdullah distanced himself from the foreign minister's statement, but expressed concern about the continuing instability in Iraq. "Iraq is composed of various ethnic and religious groups and factions. What we ask for is that justice and equality prevail among all of the ethnic groups in Iraq. We believe that all Iraq is one country in which all Iraqis [deserve to] live in peace and justice," he said.

Like Iraq, Saudi Arabia has significant Sunni and Shiite Muslim populations, and Abdullah's Sunni Muslim monarchy attempts to keep tensions between the communities to a minimum. In recent days, Saudi officials have expressed concern that Shiite-led Iran may attempt to exploit Iraq's instability. Iraq's Shiite majority has gained influence since the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime, and Saudi officials fear that Iran may be trying to gain broader regional influence and possibly assert control in southern Iraq.

Abdullah tells Walters he views Iran as a "friendly country," but seems somewhat anxious about its role in the region. "Iran is a Muslim country. We hope that Iran will not become an obstacle to peace and security in Iraq. This is what we hope for and this is what we believe the Iraqi [people] hope for," he tells Walters.

The king also stated his strong opposition to nuclear weapons, saying he would not attempt to obtain nuclear arms for his country should Iran develop them. "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, like other countries in the region, rejects the acquisition of nuclear weapons by anyone, especially nuclear weapons in the Middle East region. We hope that such weapons will be banned or eliminated from the region by every country in the region."

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