There has been a great deal of confusion and misconception surrounding the issue of child custody and abduction. Some have charged that Saudi Arabia is holding Americans against their will. This is absolutely not true. The abduction of any child is a human tragedy that should not be politicized. My government takes these issues very seriously and is working to find workable and practical solutions.
In cooperation with the U.S. government, we have made real progress toward resolving the 12 cases that involve Saudi Arabia. For example, contrary to media reports, Alia and Aisha Gheshayan, daughters of Pat Roush, have been free to leave Saudi Arabia, if they choose to do so. Last week, they traveled to London, and while there met privately with American Embassy officials. They said very clearly, as they have said repeatedly over the years, that they do not want to leave Saudi Arabia and they do not want to visit America or have contact with their mother. This is a tragic case that is filled with personal anguish for both the parents and the children. As a government, we cannot counsel the family on how to interact. What we can do is ensure that the Gheshayan sisters have the ability to freely make up their own minds, which they appear to have done.
Another similar case involves a young woman named Amjad Radwan. It should be made clear that Ms. Radwan was issued a passport when she asked for it, and can now travel freely. In a statement to the American Embassy, Ms. Radwan said that she does not wish to travel to the U.S. or elsewhere at this time, but may choose to do so in the future. There is nothing more any government can do in this situation. The Saudi government cannot force any citizen to do something he or she does not want to do.
Watching the news media and reading the editorials, one would be led to believe that cases of child abduction exist only in Saudi Arabia. This is hardly the case. In the world today, there are 1,100 cases of child abduction involving an American parent and a parent from another country. The overwhelming majority of cases involve countries neighboring the U.S. or in Europe. The cases involving Middle Eastern countries are a minority, and those involving Saudi Arabia represent less than 1% of the total. But for some strange reason, they account for virtually all the media coverage. Of the 12 cases involving the kingdom, two (Al-Gheshayan and Radwan) can no longer be regarded as outstanding. Of the remaining 10, five have requested that the Saudi and American governments take no action at this time, as the families themselves try to resolve the cases privately. The remaining cases are taken very seriously, and my government has formed a committee to ascertain the facts and recommend solutions, where possible.
It must also be noted that there are a number of cases involving children abducted by their American parent from the kingdom in violation of court orders. My government is also seeking solutions to these cases, and we have requested the assistance of the U.S. government in this matter.
It is also worth noting that more than 40,000 U.S. citizens live in Saudi Arabia, some second- and third-generation, in addition to 30,000 British citizens. Also, there are more than five million residents from all over the world and from virtually every ethnic and religious group who have made the kingdom their home. And they are not, as some editorials claim, "clamoring to get out."
Last week, our foreign minister met with a U.S. congressional delegation led by Rep. Dan Burton. While this meeting might not in itself set the final resolution to all outstanding child abduction cases, it should be viewed as the beginning of the end to this human tragedy. Both parties agreed to come up with practical and workable solutions to these tragic cases. These solutions must guarantee parental rights while safeguarding the rights of the children, who are the real victims in these cases.
Many things have been attributed to the visit of the congressional delegation led by Rep. Burton that do not reflect what was actually discussed during the visit. We are frankly surprised that the delegation itself has not clarified, thus far, what was attributed to it.
In addition, my government has proposed a bilateral protocol with the U.S. to establish a mechanism for dealing with these issues and help overcome the challenges presented by differing legal jurisdictions and make it possible to resolve these cases in a practical manner. Such a protocol would be a first, and could serve as a model for other countries.
My government respectfully asks Rep. Burton and the U.S. government to work closely with the kingdom to create practical and workable solutions that would not only solve these issues, but also prevent them from happening in the first place.
Our commitment to solving all outstanding child abduction and child custody cases is unwavering, but we must understand that it is not an easy task and requires the cooperation of all concerned parties. Turning this issue into a political football for publicity's sake clouds the realities and complicates the path toward resolution. We are ready to do our part.