Thank you, Peter [Peter J. Robertson, Co-Chairman, of the U.S.-Saudi Arabian Business Council]. I was thinking about how we could get through the program with the distinguished panel we have. We have three options: we can speak fast, we can say very little, or we can do both. So I want to start out by saying thank you to John Duke Anthony and the National Council for hosting this wonderful event. Thank you, Peter, for the kind introduction, and thank you also to my colleagues the former U.S. ambassadors to Saudi Arabia. I am humbled to be speaking with such distinguished individuals at the podium with me.
I'll try to make my remarks brief and I'll try to speak not too quickly. The relationship between our two countries is a historic one. Last year we celebrated the 75th anniversary of formal ties between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States. Our relationship began in the 1930s with the discovery of oil on a commercial basis. It evolved in the 1940s with the first meeting between our two heads of state, the late King Abdulaziz and the late Franklin Delano Roosevelt aboard the USS Quincy at the Great Bitter Lake in Egypt. And the relationship took on a military dimension in the 1950s when the U.S. military sales program to Saudi Arabia was first established.
When we look at the history of our relationship, we see that with every passing decade the relationship grows broader, deeper, stronger, and it becomes more multi-faceted. If you allow me to skip to the present, when we look at our relationship today, we see exceptionally strong ties in counter-terrorism and terror financing. We have very strong commercial investment ties and strong political ties. We have institutional links between our two countries in a way that has not existed in the past.
Referring often to the power of accurate numbers, Ronald Reagan used to say “facts are stubborn things.” When we look at the amount of investment and trade between our two countries and peoples, and when we look at the volume of visitors to Saudi Arabia from the United States or visitors to the United States from Saudi Arabia, the numbers are at historic highs.
The number of Saudi students in the U.S. is in excess of 21,000 as we speak and growing. This is a testament to the strength of the relationship. It testifies also to the fact that it is these young men and women who will carry the relationship forward over the next three or four decades.
When you look at the interests that we have in the region --when you look at the challenges we face in Pakistan, Afghanistan, with Iran's nuclear program, in Iraq and Lebanon, with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in Yemen, in the Horn of Africa, in Sudan; when you look at the challenges we face involving piracy and terrorism, the international financial crisis, energy situations and levels of trade and investment -- I believe it is clear that the interests of our two countries to date, at this moment, are as aligned as they have never been before.
We speak to each other frankly, we consult with each other intensely, and we try to engage others in this dialogue in order to resolve problems. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a history of trying to seek stability and security and peace in our region and in the world. It was King Abdullah's peace initiative which became the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002 that set the stage for the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. I believe that today there is a unanimous view among Arabs, Muslims, and millions of people from other countries the world over that the Arab Peace Initiative is the basis upon which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be resolved, God willing.
We appreciate and thank the Obama administration for its early and robust engagement in trying to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, and we look forward to working with it, helping to move it forward, and putting an end to this long-standing tragic conflict. When we look at the issue of combating extremism, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been in the forefront of countries trying to counter the mindset of extremism that seeks to hijack a noble faith and encourage people to use it to justify violence. Our religious scholars have taken very strong and public positions to counter this radicalism and it has had an impact. We believe we will continue to have an impact, God willing, in trying to eliminate this mindset from our midst.
The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques launched an inter-faith dialogue that involved different religions and cultures in order to use the universal values that are enshrined in all religions to promote understanding, co-existence, and peace because at the end of the day the universal values enshrined in all faiths are very similar. They have to do with compassion, with mercy, with peace. They have to do with co-existence, being honest, and taking care of the needy. The inter-faith dialogue is an attempt to try to use those universal values in order to build bridges between and among different people on our little planet rather than use religion in order to be divisive.
The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, which is a new major research university, was recently inaugurated in Saudi Arabia – it represents an additional attempt to build bridges with the rest of the world. It is an institution whose students and faculty hail from almost sixty countries. It is an open research facility. It is connected to a large number of distinguished universities and research institutions around the world with which it shares research, professors, and students. This university is another way to connect with the rest of the world in line with the Kingdom's vision of trying to establish and sustain international linkages that promote peace and stability and security.
To return to where I started, when we look back at the 75 years in which our two countries have had formal ties, I believe that the relationship today is very strong. I hope that the relationship, God willing, will continue to grow stronger for the benefit of both of our countries. And before I stop, I want to say that I hope I have not spoken too fast, or too long. Thank you for this opportunity. I look forward to the discussions.