Joint Press Conference of Prince Saud and U.S. Secretary Clinton

February 15, 2010

Transcript of Joint Press Conference of Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 15, 2010

FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: (English text): In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

It is my pleasure to welcome Her Excellency Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of the State, and her accompanying delegation to the Kingdom.

The Secretary met today with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz where a session of negotiation was held.  Earlier today, the Secretary and I had the opportunity to meet and exchange views on a wide range of issues.

The talks the Secretary had in the Kingdom were deep, comprehensive and frank, as is always the case in meetings among friends. I also held a meeting with her Excellency. We discussed bilateral relations and ways to strengthen them in various fields; we also covered regional issues and international issues of mutual interest.

This week marks the 65th anniversary of the first meeting between the leaders of our two countries.  On February 14, 1945, His Majesty King Abdulaziz Al-Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, met President Franklin Roosevelt on the USS Quincy. This meeting laid the foundation of Saudi-US relations on the basis of mutual respect, the promotion of shared interests, and the joint efforts to implement the principles of the United Nations in pursuing international peace and security.

Our two countries have faced numerous challenges and taken significant steps to consolidate their bilateral relations.  They have put in place a significant strategic framework to institutionalize their relationship through direct contacts between concerned bodies in both countries.  Today, officials in both countries, across various governmental institutions, are in direct contact with each other.   Our nations have signed a number of significant agreements in the areas of science, education, culture, economics, and security.

Perhaps among the most significant results of this cooperation is the notable increase in the number of Saudi students studying in the US, which increased from about 3,000 a few years ago to almost 25,000 today. In addition, we have also witnessed an increase in the volume of bilateral trade and investment, and in the exchange of visits between citizens and officials from both countries.

It is needless to say that this has increased the burden on consular missions in both countries who are required to issue more and more visas, and who oftentimes face criticism in the media for not doing enough to expedite the procedures for issuing these visas.  I feel for them.

In this regard, tightening security measures against Saudi nationals was subject for discussion. I noted the US government's understanding of our concerns, Her Excellency promised to review these measures on the base of achieving a balance between security and the respect for rights of the individual.

With regard to regional and international issues, the peace process in the Middle East was among the main issues we discussed.  Saudi Arabia appreciates the early and focused movement of the US administration in dealing with the peace process within the framework of the two-state solution, which aims at the establishment of an independent, contiguous and viable Palestinian state. We also believe that Israeli settlements are illegal and illegitimate.

The Kingdom believes in the importance of launching the peace process comprehensively to deal with the main issues of the conflict simultaneously according to specific terms of reference and a clear time-line for its conclusion.  The Kingdom believes that a step-by-step and confidence-building approach have failed to accomplish their objective. This is mostly clearly evidenced by the current Israeli government's refusal to resume negotiations from the point where they were left off by the previous government.

Our talks also covered the Iranian nuclear issue. The Kingdom reiterates its support for the P-5 plus 1 to solve the crisis peacefully through dialogue.  We encourage the continuation of these efforts. We also urge Iran to respond to these efforts to remove regional and international suspicions towards its nuclear program, particularly since the efforts of the P5+1 to ensure the right of Iran and other states in the region  to peacefully utilize nuclear energy according to the criteria and measures of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and  under its surveillance.

The Kingdom also stresses the importance of making the Gulf and broader Middle East region free of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons. This standard must apply to all states in the region without exception, including Israel.  History has shown that every weapon that was introduced in the region was actually used.

We also discussed the situation in Yemen. We welcome the Yemeni government's decision regarding a ceasefire in Northern Yemen, and we hope that other parties will abide by the decision in order to have peace and stability prevail in the brotherly country, and to direct efforts towards consolidating  Yemeni national unity and achieving the country's  development and  prosperity.

We also discussed the situation in Afghanistan in light of the recent London conference, and the importance of having military efforts adjoined simultaneously with civilian efforts to help Afghanistan develop its infrastructure and achieve social and economic development.  Such efforts should also support national reconciliation among all Afghans.

We believe that this is the only way to save Afghanistan from its current state of despair, frustration and insecurity.  Afghanistan, unfortunately, is a state that has been exploited by terrorist organizations to achieve their objectives.  This must come to an end.

Our joint efforts to combat terrorism have achieved success.  These efforts must be continued and intensified to completely eliminate this hateful phenomenon from our world. In this regard, the Kingdom is determined to continue its policy of combating terrorism, terror finance, and the extremism that condones it.  The Kingdom has been successful in thwarting terrorist operations domestically and preventing terrorist operations from being launched from its territory. These achievements were made with the help of God, and with the support of the Saudi people.

We also discussed the situation in Iraq. We expressed our hope that the upcoming elections will realize the aspirations of the Iraqi people to achieve security, stability and territorial integrity on the basis of equality among all Iraqis, irrespective of their beliefs and sectarian differences, and to protect their country against any foreign intervention.

Once again, I welcome the Secretary of State, and I am pleased to give her the floor. 

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much. I am delighted to be here today with the foreign minister and to have had this opportunity for a very active day of consultation and conversation, both with the foreign minister and with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, His Majesty King Abdullah.

The United States and Saudi Arabia have long shared a partnership. As the foreign minister said, it goes back 65 years this week to another meeting between our President and the Saudi King. It is a partnership that is both durable and dynamic. It is built on mutual respect and mutual interests, and it is crucial to our shared hopes for the future. I am pleased to have had this opportunity to both reaffirm that partnership and discuss how we can broaden and strengthen it.

There are many, many important issues that we discussed together today. And last night, I reaffirmed at the speech that I gave at the United States-Islamic World Forum President Obama’s vision of renewed partnership and shared responsibility. Tomorrow, I will have the privilege of meeting with Saudi citizens in Jeddah, including women, students, business leaders, civil society advocates, to explore further the bonds between our people and the common aspirations that we all share: security for ourselves and our communities; a better life for our families; and the chance for all children to live up to their God-given potential.

A pillar of this broad engagement is the idea that we must take shared responsibility. We face common challenges, as the foreign minister said. We discussed Afghanistan and Pakistan, the extremist groups who operate from bases there who have killed people of many faiths in many countries. Both the United States and Saudi Arabia have been targeted, so we know what is at stake. And I want to extend my appreciation to the Kingdom for the effort that it has undertaken to combat terrorism everywhere.

Our two nations also share the goal of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. The King and foreign minister and I discussed how best to re-launch credible and productive negotiation on Middle East that will achieve both parties’ aspirations. The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative is vital to the efforts necessary to promote a comprehensive peace and it lays out a vision of a better future for all of the region’s people. It is time to renew its spirit today and to move towards specifics.

The United States believes that through good faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements. We believe it is possible to reach an outcome that both realizes the aspirations of all people for Jerusalem and safeguards its status for the future.

While encouraging negotiations, the international community must also support the work of President Abbas, Prime Minister Fayyad, and the Palestinian Authority to build the Palestinian economy and institutions necessary for a viable and independent Palestinian state that provides security, rule of law, and essential services to the Palestinian people.

We also discussed Iran’s increasingly disturbing and destabilizing actions. For the past year, the United States has led an unprecedented effort to launch a new relationship with Iran. With our partners, we have sought to meet with Iran to chart a path for a fully peaceful nuclear program within international safeguards. But Iran has refused to reciprocate, and since October has refused every offer to meet with the P-5+1 representatives on its nuclear program. Now, Iran has informed the IAEA that it will start producing higher grade enriched uranium. This announcement is a provocative move in defiance of the United States Security Council resolution. The Iranian Government knows that this risks creating more regional instability and will result in increasing isolation.

International solidarity is critical in dealing with Iran. We are working actively with our regional and international partners in the context of our dual-track approach to prepare and implement new measures to convince Iran to change its course. We will also continue to speak out against the ongoing human rights violations in Iran, which we have seen again this past week.

And we also discussed the importance of our continued cooperation on Yemen. When Prince Saud and I attended the January 27th London meeting on Yemen, we agreed with those present to coordinate our assistance to help the Yemeni Government implement needed political and economic reforms. The Government of Yemen presented at that conference its own plan for national economic development. We look forward to supporting that plan. We want to help the government promote security and minimize the threat from violent extremists within its borders. We also discussed a provision of reconstruction aid to Yemen’s war-ravaged northern region now that a ceasefire has been announced, which we hope will hold.

So on these and many other fronts, the dialogue and partnership between the United States and the Kingdom provides a foundation for progress. I am very pleased to have the foreign minister as a partner as we work to strengthen the ties between our nations and our people. And again, I want to thank him and His Majesty for the gracious hospitality showed to me and our entire delegation, including the traveling members of the American press who were included in an absolutely wonderful lunch that the King hosted for us. Thank you again for all of this warm welcome that has been provided to us.

FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: I hope they remember it. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Your Royal Highness, first of all, let me pass along our gratitude at being included today. Please pass that along to His Majesty. And two questions for you.

The first is, as the U.S. seeks to build international support for sanctions against Iran, there’s been a lot of talk about the role that Saudi Arabia could play by reassuring the Chinese that it will guarantee a reliable supply of oil in the event that there were some disruptions in the global oil supply. I wonder whether you have conveyed that message to the Chinese Government. And if you haven’t conveyed it, do you think it makes sense for Saudi Arabia to take that step?

And then one quick follow-up, if I may. Secretary of State Clinton said earlier today that the United States would pledge to defend its friends and allies in the region from Iranian aggression. This has been characterized by some as the creation of a security or a defense umbrella for the region. Do you think that the notion of a security umbrella makes sense for the Persian Gulf? Would you feel comfortable with such an arrangement?

FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: Well, you put your finger on the threats that face the nation – the region because of the position that Iran has taken not to come out forthrightly and accept the proposal that would have resolved this dispute to the benefit of all, allowing Iran to produce atomic energy and providing the safety and the security of the region.

As I said in my statement, the inclusion of atomic weapons in the region is dangerous because historically we have seen that there has been no weapon introduced to the region, but as (inaudible) how destructive or inhumane in its use. So things are not going to remain static. Proliferation is not something that one can look at lightly. You allow for proliferation to happen here, the genie jumps from another place. And so Iran, if it continues on the line that is continuing, will provide the impetus for further proliferation and, God forbid, see the region full of atomic weapons. So this is a threat that we do not want to even conceive, let alone do something about it. We think that the United Nations Security Council and the permanent members have a specific and special responsibility in this matter.

Saudi Arabia and its relations with China, of course, are a close relationship, and especially the economic sphere (inaudible) produces of oil that is exported to China. But it is not a matter of just Saudi Arabia and China; we have to come with a real plan to prevent the proliferation of atomic weapons in the region. This is why we put our proposal that the region be free, declared free of atomic weapons and weapons of mass destruction. We believe that is the right approach.

Sanctions are a long-term solution. (Inaudible) we can judge. But we see the issue in the shorter term, maybe because we are closer to the threats than that. So we need immediate resolutions rather than gradual resolution to this regard.

I am sure the Chinese carry their responsibility as one of the five permanent members of the United Nations very seriously and they need no suggestion from Saudi Arabia to do what they ought to do according to their responsibility.

Sorry for the long-winded response.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) (Inaudible) for targeting the airplanes by al-Qaida (inaudible) by the al-Qaida (inaudible) the cooperation between Washington and Riyadh in combating against terrorism. And so how do the United States evaluate and see the efforts (inaudible) by the security forces in Saudi Arabia in this regard?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, the United States and Saudi Arabia have a shared experience with terrorism and a shared determination to protect our people from those who, as the foreign minister said, would use terrorism to undermine the security or the financial or the physical well-being of the people of either of our countries. And I think it’s a challenge that we all have to meet. The foreign minister called terrorism an alien culture, and I think that’s exactly right. I’ve never heard it called that before, but I think he very accurately describes what is an effort to intimidate people, to frighten people, to create conditions in which people do not feel safe in their own homes or going to a market or a movie theater or a volleyball game or a mosque. And no country can tolerate that. We owe our citizens the protection that they deserve.

So we do look to the Kingdom to advise and guide our efforts. We cooperate together, as we do with many other countries. And I think that increasingly, the terrorists are being seen for what they are, as aliens, no matter who they pretend to represent. They are trying to go into societies and wreak fear and danger in ways that must be combated, and the United States is committed to doing so and working with other leaders and countries like Saudi Arabia who share that commitment.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Foreign Minister, earlier today, Secretary Clinton warned that Iran’s Government was being taken over by a shadowy force, the Revolutionary Guards, that could lead to a military dictatorship in Iran. Do you agree with her statement, and how do you think Iran’s growing power affects what Saudi Arabia has called the traditional equilibrium in the region?

And then for Madam Secretary, how would you assess the state of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia?

FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: (Inaudible.) which is a very extremist policy (inaudible) it is important (inaudible) if we want security for the region, it requires an Iran at peace and happy with itself. And we hope that that situation will be solved soon, but it is a matter of calming down – but it is now a matter of extremism. I think it will be a difficult time for the region in the future.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Let me just add to the foreign minister’s comments. I think that the change in Iran from democratically elected governments, whether one agreed with them or not, which had the support of the Iranian people, to what we see today is very dramatic and troubling. And increasingly, more and more aspects of Iranian society – security apparatus, the economy – are being controlled not by the clerical leadership, not by the political leadership, but by the Revolutionary Guard. I share the foreign minister’s hope that this is not a permanent change, but that instead the religious and political leaders of Iran act to take back the authority which they should be exercising on behalf of the people.

It’s a very difficult environment for normal politics to take place by Iranian standards. And in many conversations with experts on Iran, with exiles from Iran, with former prisoners in Iran, the message is very clear that the space keeps shrinking for either religious or civilian leadership. And something else is filling that space, and so far as we can tell, it’s the expanded power of the Revolutionary Guard.

Now, with respect to women in Saudi Arabia, I am delighted that I’ll have a chance to meet with and talk to a number of women tomorrow when I’m in Jeddah. I am particularly pleased that I have in my life a number of women who are from the Kingdom who grew up here, whom I know personally. And I want to publicly recognize the efforts of His Majesty the King for the emphasis on education, the commitment to provide opportunities for young women to pursue their interests. And I am very anxious to hear directly from women themselves. I don’t want to second-guess or in any way substitute my observation for their experience, because the experts in women in the Kingdom are the women themselves. But I am very excited by many of the positive developments that I have read about and been told about over the last several years under His Majesty’s leadership.

QUESTION: (In Arabic.) (Inaudible) my question is to His Royal Prince. Iran (inaudible) controls (inaudible) and this can threaten the economical interests and (inaudible) can create crisis with the Iranian authority. What is the stand of the oil-exporting countries with regard to this announcement, and why is your (inaudible) measures that you can take to establish some sort of international stand against Iran?

FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: (Via interpreter) If this is true, this is considered an act of war – this announcement will be received as an act of war and this (inaudible) concerned with the (inaudible) other than it would be threatening the international peace and security and to be hazardous action to be taken by the Iran authority. We hope that this announcement (inaudible) false, but if it is true, it would be very hazardous and threatening.

Thank you.