saudi king 298 .
(photo credit: AP)
Saudi Arabia's new king said his country would fight the "madness" of terrorism for 30 years if necessary and also issued an oblique criticism of Israeli and Iranian nuclear programs, telling ABC television he hoped such weapons would "be banned or eliminated ... by every country in the region."
In an interview with ABC's Barbara Walters, King Abdullah said he would expand the rights of Saudi women and eventually allow them to drive.
Saudi Arabia "will fight the terrorists, and those who support them or condone their actions, for 10, 20 or 30 years if we have to, until we eliminate this scourge," the king said, according to an ABC report of the interview slated for broadcast Friday night.
When asked why groups such as al-Qaida, the terror network led by the Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, had taken root in the kingdom, the king replied: "Madness and evil, it is the work of the devil."
Foreign observers and liberal Saudis have long contended that the way Islam is taught in Saudi schools encourages attitudes that may lead students to become terrorists later.
"For those who level these charges against us, I say provide us with the evidence that this is happening and we will deal with it," the king said. "It is not logical or rational for us to be supporting it.
"We have also regulated our charities and we have closed offices around the world, and we have withdrawn support for institutions that we found to be extremist," he added.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, the kingdom took steps to prevent money collected by Islamic charities from being diverted to terrorist groups.
The kingdom was initially faulted for being slow to clamp down on militants and their financing, but it drastically stepped up its measures after al-Qaida-linked groups launched a series of terror attacks on Saudi soil in May 2003.
ABC said that in the interview the king expressed concern about the role of Iran in Iraq. He told Walters he saw Iran as a "friendly," Muslim country, but added: "We hope Iran will not become an obstacle to peace and security in Iraq."
Abdullah also said he was strongly opposed to nuclear weapons, even to the extent that he would not seek them even if Iran developed 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," Abdullah said. "We hope that such weapons will be banned or eliminated from the region."
Abdullah, who became king on the death of his half-brother Fahd in August, told ABC that he was committed to increasing the rights of Saudi women, who are currently not permitted to drive cars and who need a male relative's permission to travel abroad or attend university.
"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.
Driving licenses for women "will require patience. In time, I believe it will be possible," the king said in the ABC report, which was posted on the Internet.
But when pressed on whether he would legalize female driving, Abdullah indicated Saudi men were too conservative for such a step any time soon.
"I value and take care of my people as I would my eyes ... I respect my people," he said.