A PDF version of this interview is available here.
Has the election of a new American President had an impact on Saudi-U.S. relations and what do you envision the focus of that relationship being under President Obama?
Saudi Arabia has maintained a positive and close relationship with every American President since the meeting between the founder of the modern Saudi state, King Abdulaziz ibn Saud and President Franklin Roosevelt in 1945. That close relationship continues today with President Obama, who met with King Abdullah at the G-20 Summit in London in April, and again during his visit to the Kingdom in June, ahead of his historic speech to the Muslim world in Cairo.
In fact, Saudi-U.S. relations are very strong today. Our relationship was founded on mutual commercial interests—as American oilmen helped explore and develop the Kingdom’s natural resources in the 1930s—but grew on a strategic, government-to-government level during the Cold War. Today, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. share a common agenda for peace and prosperity; and on all current issues of priority—Middle East peace, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, combating piracy and terrorism, and dealing with the global economy—our nations’ interests intersect.
Of the issues of importance to Saudi Arabia and the U.S. that you mention, Middle East stability has become a priority of the Obama administration; however, there is a slate of issues involved with this. Which do you believe is most important?
For Saudi Arabia, there is perhaps no goal more important than achieving an equitable solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which affects a number of other problems in the region and the world.
When he spoke directly to the Muslim world, President Obama took a bold and positive step. Saudi Arabia looks forward to working with the U.S. to help seek solutions to the problems affecting our region and the world.
In 2002, at the Arab Summit in Beirut, then-Crown Prince, now King Abdullah, introduced the Arab Peace Initiative that was adopted by all Arab countries. The initiative was reaffirmed by the Arab League at the Riyadh Summit in 2007 and it remains on the table. The proposal offers Israel peace and full, normal relations with all Arab countries in exchange for its withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, and a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. It provides a realistic approach to implementing the vision of the two-state solution.
As you mentioned, President Obama conferred with King Abdullah before he delivered the Cairo speech in which he spoke directly to the Muslim world—clearly recognizing Saudi Arabia as the birthplace of Islam. How does this fact influence the Kingdom’s worldview?
As the birthplace of Islam and home to the two Holy Mosques—in Makkah and Medina—Saudi Arabia has a duty to foster tolerance, trust and shared values, not only among Muslims, but also throughout the world in accordance with the true message of our faith. We seek to bring the people of different cultures and faiths closer and to confront extremism and terrorism. President Obama’s efforts to speak to the Muslim world are important and welcome. For its part, Saudi Arabia has undertaking a number of initiatives to bring people together.
King Abdullah, in fact, has been very active in the promotion of peace and religious tolerance throughout the world. A good example is the International Interfaith Dialogue, which has brought together people of all faiths to discuss our common values and ways to use these values to solve the problems we all face.
To initiate the dialogue, King Abdullah convened the International Islamic Conference for Dialogue in Makkah in June 2008. This conference brought together over 600 Muslim scholars from all over the world. The Makkah Conference was followed by the World Conference on Dialogue in Madrid in July 2008, which brought together over 200 representatives of all faiths. This was followed by the convening, at King Abdullah’s request, of a United Nations High-Level Meeting on Interfaith Dialogue attended by more than 60 world leaders.
King Abdullah’s Interfaith Dialogue Initiative is an important step aimed at increasing tolerance and understanding among people and nations of all faiths.
Other examples of King Abdullah’s efforts to promote peace over the years include, among others, attempts to mediate in Sudan, Somalia, among the Palestinian factions, and in Lebanon.
You’ve discussed the positive nature of government-to-government relations between the Kingdom and the U.S., but how have you maintained the people-to-people relations that initiated the relationship seven decades ago?
Maintaining positive and mutually beneficial relationships between the Saudi and American people is fundamental to the overall partnership of our countries. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of Saudis have traveled to the United States for education or healthcare, to conduct business or simply to visit. In turn, many American have also come to the Kingdom. This has made all the difference in building bridges between our people and countries.
We have in place several initiatives to promote increased understanding, interaction and exchange between Saudis and Americans. One of the most important is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Scholarship Program. So far, more than 60,000 Saudi students are studying abroad on scholarships, with almost 20,000 studying in the U.S.
On the economic front, Saudi investment in the U.S. and American investment in the Kingdom are at all-time highs. Two-way trade is at record levels. Interactions and visits between officials in our two governments are very robust. Official visits, trade delegations, visits by mayors, student groups, or civic groups in both directions are routine and will help further broaden and deepen the historic ties between our two nations.