CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Professor Looks at Geography of Saudi Arabia
Aired October 2, 2002 - 12:56 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The idea that "geography is destiny" certainly applies in the case of Saudi Arabia. It shares a huge border with Iraq. Economic activity, including oil exporting, is located on the vulnerable side of the country, according to our guest. She is Professor Dona Stewart of Georgia State University.
The professor joined Kyra Phillips in the CNN map room just a little while ago.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We are here with Professor Dona Stewart from Georgia State University. Thank you so much for being with us.
PROF. DONA STEWART, GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY: Thank you.
PHILLIPS: All right, let's talk about Saudi Arabia, sort of establish where things are.
STEWART: Well, for our purposes, it might make sense to think of Saudi Arabia as the size of roughly the United States east of the Mississippi, and of course, it's largely desert. The political capital is Riyadh. It is about 3 million people out of a total population of about 22 million people in the kingdom.
PHILLIPS: And very important economically.
STEWART: Absolutely. In fact, this entire quadrant here is really the economic heart of the kingdom. Not only do you have the political capital of Riyadh, you also have major oil export facilities, oil exploration activity and an industrial port -- Damman, Jubail, Kobhar (ph) -- all of these are located right in this vulnerable eastern quadrant.
PHILLIPS: And over here on the west side, of course, religion, very important. This is sort of the spiritual center of Islam -- Mecca, Medina.
STEWART: Absolutely. Not only the spiritual center of the kingdom, but also the spiritual center for the religion of Islam, overall. Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, the site of the Kabba, and where the annual Hajj or pilgrimage is held every year. Medina, the second holiest site of Islam.
And in fact, the king of Saudi Arabia carries in his title the guardian or custodian of the two holy mosques. And that's what this refers to.
We also have Jeddah, which has been very important historically as a port, and continues to be an important port today.
PHILLIPS: And that leads us into U.S. military operations and installations. I know we can't talk a lot about that. There's a lot of classified information. But what we do know, Jeddah is one important area. We'll get to that.
But let's start with Prince Sultan Air Base outside of Riyadh.
STEWART: Probably the most important air base is Prince Sultan Air Base, which was largely developed during the 1991 Gulf War, and it was a major staging area there. The question remains open as to whether or not the United States will be able to use these bases if there is an engagement with Iraq.
In addition to Prince Sultan, we've also had troops in Dhahran, and you may also remember el-Kobhar (ph). Dhahran, of course, was hit by a SCUD during the 1991 Gulf War. So, some of that was shifted for safety reasons further to the south.
We have had a substantial presence here for at least the last 10 years.
PHILLIPS: And back over on the west side, Jeddah.
STEWART: Jeddah also is important, because you really have two corridors here that you need to be concerned about -- the Red Sea corridor and the Persian or Arabian Gulf corridor. So, we also have a presence there as well.
PHILLIPS: So, the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the U.S., quite different from 1991.
STEWART: Very different, because the regional situation is different. In '91 -- 1991, you had Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait. The Saudis perceived that there were troops on their border and that Saddam Hussein may come into Saudi Arabia. They perceived a real threat to themselves.
That's not the situation right now. I don't think the Saudis perceive that they're under a direct threat, neither do many of the players in the region. So, there's a real hesitation to go in and do military action at this time.
PHILLIPS: Professor Dona Stewart, George State University, I know we'll be talking again soon. Thank you so much.
STEWART: Thank you.
PHILLIPS: All right, Wolf -- back to you.
BLITZER: Thank you very much, Kyra, and Professor Stewart for that information.
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