Speaking on Monday before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Prince Turki al-Faisal refused to comment on the controversy surrounding Iran and whether sanctions would be appropriate at any point, saying only that talks were under way.

Al-Faisal said: "This is the only topic that I'm not going to talk about and that is because we're in the process of discussing things with Iran.

"And the instructions that I have received from my superiors is that as these discussions are continuing that I would decline talking about it in detail."

Seriousness

Al-Faisal, pressed to elaborate, would not do so, making it impossible to tell how serious the talks are and whether they could help resolve the stand-off over Iran's intentions.

"Nothing justifies any terrorist act whether through suicide bombing or through any other activity"

Prince Turki al-Faisal,
Saudi ambassador to the US

In other remarks, al-Faisal said that for all the shock in the Western world about 11 September 2001 attacks, and in Iraq, most Muslims were even more surprised.

Prince al-Faisal said the attacks were the result of a cult-like attitude fomented by al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden that ran counter to the central tenets of Islam, which holds that "killing one soul is like killing all of mankind". 

The ambassador said Bin Laden had created a cult-like attitude in which recruits "devote themselves and sacrifice their lives without question".

Al-Faisal said: "Nothing justifies any terrorist act whether through suicide bombing or through any other activity." 

Attacks differentiated

Still, he distinguished the attacks carried out by Palestinian groups against Israel, saying the attacks were justified by groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad as "legitimate means of war under occupation".

Al-Faisal said Saudi officials had spoken with "all parties" in Iraq so that they would come together for a national reconciliation effort, and said that education and jobs were now completely open to women in his country.

More women, he said, were graduating from colleges, and with greater distinction than men.

On the issue of freedom of religion, al-Faisal acknowledged that officials needed to do better in a country where Christians and Jews were often forced to practice their religion in secret.

But he also said Muslims felt a sense of injustice. Muslims, he said, believe in the prophets and holy texts of other religions. He asked why followers of those faiths did not do the same.

"Why don't you accept our Quran as your book as we accept your Bible in its entirety whether Old Testament or New Testament?" he asked.