Hold your peace
By CLIVE GOODMAN, ROYAL EDITOR
A SERIOUS rift has opened up between Prince Charles and the government because he is seen to be AGAINST a war on Iraq and AGAINST America.
Whitehall also believes the prince is sympathetic to the view of his Arab friends that war on Saddam Hussein is a bid by the US to grab a stake in the Middle East's oil.
Yet despite being colonel-in-chief to 17 regiments, Charles has shown little public support for the soldiers, airmen and sailors who are about to risk their lives in a Gulf conflict.
There are also worries that he makes no secret of his anti-American views in conversations with members of Arab royal families and their leading officials.
A Whitehall source said: "Downing Street tries not to involve the prince in anything— because they have concerns over how he will react.
"He has this lunatic view he is the voice of the people."
And a diplomatic insider said: "It would be very unhelpful if the prince were to indicate anything other than unswerving support for the government."
The prince's stance was illustrated last week when—in his role as colonel-in-chief of the Paras—he said a stiff, formal farewell to his men as they prepared to leave for the Gulf.
His visit to the Parachute Regiment barracks in Colchester does not merit a single line on his official website. It was not announced by his own office.
Yet his opening of an Islamic education centre in Leicester two weeks ago is reported on the website with 19 paragraphs, two pictures and a full transcript of his speech.
Charles is rightly feted for his pioneering work creating understanding and tolerance between Islam and other faiths.
He also holds many honorary military positions, including chief to the Welsh Guards, the Paras and the Gurkhas. He is Vice-Admiral in the Royal Navy, Air Marshal in the RAF and Lieutenant General in the Army.
Critics say the prince likes to cut a dash in the Paras' coveted red beret—strutting around with a chestful of medals on his tunic. But they ask how the men of the Parachute Regiment would feel if they knew their colonel's true feelings on the war.
The prince's views have led to a worrying split with the American leadership. Two months ago, Charles had to abandon an official visit to the US because the White House made it clear he wasn't wanted.
The snub—directly from President Bush—came after security sources advised that Charles's presence in America would be "very unhelpful".
Washington diplomats were concerned the prince would show his disapproval during meetings with President Bush.
Charles—who reads the Koran every day and often adopts Islamic dress at home—spends long hours discussing the Middle East's problems with Saudi royal family members.
One of his closest friends is the former Saudi ambassador Ghazi Algosaibi who wrote a poem in praise of the first woman suicide bomber.
Algosaibi said that the "doors of heaven are opened for her". He once described the Israelis as worse than Nazis and he was a regular guest at Highgrove—Prince Charles's country home—before he was recalled by his government last year.
Charles is also close to King Abdullah of Jordan. His glamorous wife Queen Rania is a close friend of the prince's partner, Camilla Parker Bowles and is a regular guest at St James's Palace.
In private the prince talks about "Americanimperi-alism" collapsing the whole of the Middle East.
"Of course Saddam is an evil man, but American imperialism will not solve the problem," he said in one discussion.
He sympathises with his Saudi royal friends when they talk about their fears of America's true intentions in Iraq.
One close friend said: "They believe the US intends to collapse the whole Gulf economy and take control of oil.
"Once that happens the tensions in Israel and Palestine will explode."
Charles's meeting three days ago with French President Jacques Chirac was fraught with diplomatic concerns.
Before the meeting the Foreign Office asked the Prince of Wales's staff if he would promise not to discuss Iraq.
They said yes, but Charles would feel free to give an opinion if Chirac raised Iraq first.
Downing Street is understood to have washed its hands of winning Charles's support.
"At such a sensitive time his views are wrong, wrong, wrong," said a Whitehall source.
"Unfortunately he is making them a little too widely known."
TODAY—with our forces poised for action in the Gulf—we ask: Where does the heir to the throne stand?
Prince Charles is colonel-in-chief of 10 UK regiments, seven more abroad.
He also holds the exalted ranks of Vice-Admiral in the Royal Navy, Air Marshal in the Royal Air Force and Lieutenant General in the Army. About as high as it gets.
The prince rightly speaks with warmth on the subject of Islam and the East.
But privately he argues war could and should be avoided. He blames the West's hopeless failure to understand Muslim culture.
We have no problem with his affection for Islam. Like most religions it has important qualities, and we are all for understanding other faiths.
But the regiments—whose fine uniforms he adopts—have a right to know their chief supports them.
For the Queen's Golden Jubilee, the nation turned out in millions. Now Charles must support the nation.
President Bush has a simple way of putting it: You're either with the civilised world or the terrorists.
Of course, we do not expect the Prince of Wales to lead our troops into battle.
But since he enjoys the honour of wearing the uniforms, we are entitled to ask:
When will he come out and back our boys in public?
News Of The World - 9 Feb 2003