Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is my pleasure to be here tonight. At the outset, I would like to express my appreciation for the efforts of the U.S.-Saudi Business Council in fostering closer commercial ties between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The world we live in has changed markedly in the past two decades. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the explosion in technology and communications, and the emergence of the so-called “Global Village” have forced decision-makers to re-assess their perceptions of the world we live in. Leaders are now forced to think in global terms, and not just military-political ones. Finance and trade have entered the political lexicon as an important variable. The Asian financial crisis and the impact it had on the rest of the world, both financially and politically, is a clear example of the interdependence which characterizes our world.
As businessmen and financiers you are well aware of this trend.
There are those who will tell you that the global village will lead to greater harmony between nations. But they forget that a village has its neighborhoods and neighborhoods have their feuds.
I am pleased, as a diplomat, to inform you that diplomacy will not go out of fashion but will continue to play a major role in the future.
I would be remiss, as a representative of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, if I don’t say something about my heritage. As an Arab and a Muslim, I hail from one of the great civilizations of history. Ours is an intermediate civilization, both historically and geographically. Historically, the Arab-Muslim civilization was the link between the ancient worlds of Greece and Rome and the modern world of today. Geographically, it was the link between the orient and the occident. The Arab-Muslim civilization was a trading civilization; it was open to the world, and open to new ideas. As businessmen, you help maintain that tradition.
Our region is currently entering a new period of optimism and hope.
In Israel, there is now a government which appears to be moving away from the policies of obstruction and rejection. As a result, the peace process is likely to be re-energized. It is our hope that the words of the new government in Israel will be translated into concrete deeds, not only in the Palestinian track, but also in the Syrian and Lebanese tracks. This will require courage and determination by all sides.
Iran is currently going through changes which hopefully will result in increased stability in the Gulf region.
Libya’s agreement to hand over the suspects in the Lockerbie affair is bringing to an end a long and painful chapter for the Libyan people as well as for the families of the victims.
An end to Algeria’s civil strife appears to be within reach.
Three great leaders have departed in Bahrain, Jordan and Morocco. Their successors have taken their places and continued their policies in an orderly manner.
Economic growth in many parts of the Arab world is accelerating and improving the lives of the inhabitants of the region.
The politics of rhetoric and extremism are being replaced by pragmatism and openness.
If the history of our region is any indication, we should take the opportunities presented to us and set the stage for a new future in which security, stability, peace and prosperity prevail for our children and grandchildren.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia firmly believes in providing opportunity for all its citizens. We believe in private enterprise, the free movement of capital and goods, access to credits and incentives, and the protection of private property. Our government policies are firmly pro-business.
We are aware of the challenges as well as the opportunities before us. The Kingdom has embarked on a program of privatization, encouraging foreign investment, re-structuring its company laws, and streamlining economic decision-making. It is actively working to join the World Trade Organization in order to provide more opportunity for its private sector and enhance its attractiveness for foreign investors.
The Kingdom is currently in discussions with major oil companies regarding investments in its oil sector. Saudi companies are active, not only in the Arab world, but in Asia, South Africa, the Far East and other places. These moves should not come as a surprise to anyone. They are part and parcel of rational, planned decision-making.
We are entering the second phase of our development. The first phase, which is essentially complete, involved the building of an infrastructure and social services, the education of our population, and the creation of a viable private sector. In the past twenty-five years, the Kingdom allocated approximately 1.2 trillion dollars for this purpose. A nation was transformed.
The second phase, which we are about to enter, requires the shifting of gears from a public sector driven economy to one in which the private sector becomes the engine for growth. The policies currently being implemented are setting the stage for this new phase.
The Kingdom is the largest market for goods and services in the Middle East. It is the seventh largest market for American products. We welcome even greater participation by American firms in the opportunities available to them in the Kingdom.
I want to assure you of the Kingdom’s deep-rooted commitment to private enterprise and free trade. These principles have existed in the Arabian Peninsula since ancient times. Our ancestors were traders in search of new markets and opportunities; they devised the first recorded letter of credit in human history several thousand years ago. It should not be a surprise that their descendants continue their traditions and become competitive in the age of the satellite and the micro-chip.