Prince Turki Faisal, Saudi Arabia's new ambassador to the United States, made his public debut in Washington this week, giving a high-profile speech that outlined his country's approach to dealing with terrorism and making a strong pitch for vigorous American engagement to help resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.
"The Gaza initiative was welcomed by Saudi Arabia," he said, referring to Israel's recent move to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. But he added, "We want to see it as the first step, not as a last step in withdrawals from occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza."
Asked after the speech if Saudi Arabia was willing to condemn Iran for its recent incendiary declarations against Israel, he answered, "We prefer to deal directly with Iranians and tell them face to face, rather than gaining some cookies" for doing so in public.
"We have good ties with Iran, we do trade with them, we communicate with them," he said when asked whether he considered Iran a state sponsor of terrorism. "We believe engagement is better than isolation."
On Monday evening, Turki, the former longtime Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to Britain, wore a stylish black business suit with a red silk pochette for the annual banquet of the Middle East Institute, held at the National Press Club. At the head table, he chatted amiably with Zbigniew Brzezinski, Thomas R. Pickering and senior figures in American diplomacy and foreign policy.
On Tuesday morning, delivering the keynote address at the institute's 59th annual conference, Turki denounced terrorism as a "scourge" that has "defiled our world. Nothing makes it right. It has ripped communities apart. It has eaten away at international and cultural understanding. It has tried to turn friends into enemies."
Turki said his government has taken numerous measures to crack down on terrorism, including freezing suspects' assets, interrogating hundreds of detainees and killing or capturing more than "100 known terrorists."
As he spoke, the Senate Judiciary Committee was holding a hearing entitled "Saudi Arabia: Friend or Foe?" Testimony included critical comments by Steven Emerson, a terrorism specialist who is critical of Saudi governance, and more positive assessment from Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Turki was a key Saudi intelligence official in the 1990s, when some Saudis forged links to radical Islamic groups in Afghanistan and other countries.
On a positive note, he said that as a result of meetings between President Bush and Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, the number of Saudi students coming to the United States was increasing again after several years of tighter visa restrictions.
This year, he said, his government provided 3,000 scholarships for students to come to the United States and hopes to increase that number to 15,000 next year.
Turki noted that Wyche Fowler Jr., the Middle East Institute's chairman and a former U.S. envoy to Saudi Arabia, had once "crossed the Nafud Desert with some other foolhardy," encountering a sandstorm and giving his host government quite a scare.
"For nearly 48 hours we were very anxious," Turki said as Fowler grinned and nodded at a nearby table. "Fortunately he was found."
Salva Kiir Mayardit, the first vice president of Sudan, is taller, leaner and more reserved than the man he replaced -- the formidable, extroverted rebel leader John Garang. But Mayardit, visiting Washington for official meetings, seemed equally committed to the peace agreement Garang helped broker between northern and southern Sudan before he died in an air crash in July.
Mayardit, who was working in the wings when Garang died, said he stepped into the breach to help Sudan's political transition, with both a new constitution approved and the historic agreement in place that ended a 21-year civil conflict.
"I am wearing two hats," Mayardit said. Under the new national unity government, he holds senior positions in both Khartoum, the national capital in Sudan's Muslim north, and Juba, the regional capital of its Christian and animist south.
This week the deputy secretary of state, Robert B. Zoellick, is in Kenya and Sudan to press for full implementation of the peace accord, as well as for progress in resolving a separate conflict in western Sudan's Darfur region.
In an interview Friday following two days of meetings with U.S. officials, Mayardit said the first stumbling block was a dispute over how to govern Khartoum.
"It was supposed to be a joint administration of Khartoum, free of sharia laws, so foreigners and non-Muslims would not be subjected to the same restrictions," he said, referring to Islamic law. He said Muslim government leaders had failed to come up with a plan to restructure the government as required.
"It is in the agreement. If they don't want to implement it, I will go out in public and say they are reneging," Mayardit said, explaining that if non-Muslims brew alcoholic beverages, they are thrown in jail, lashed and fined.