2004 Transcript
 

04/30/2004
Foreign advisor holds online chat session on the Saudi-U.S. relationship
Crown Prince Abdullah's foreign affairs advisor Adel Al-Jubeir held a one-hour on-line chat session April 30 on 'Viewpoint'at to discuss the Saudi-U.S. relationship

Saudi Arabia and the United States have been friends and allies for more than six decades. From the Kingdom's commitment to the War on Terrorism and lower oil prices to its ongoing reform efforts, the Saudi - U.S. partnership remains strong. Adel Al-Jubeir answered questions on current issues affecting the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States in a live discussion.

Born in Riyadh, Mr. Al-Jubeir attended schools in the Middle East and Europe and obtained his BA summa cum laude in political science and economics from the University of North Texas in 1982 and his MA in international relations from Georgetown University in 1984. In 1986 he was appointed into the Foreign Service and posted at the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C. In 1999 he was appointed director of the Saudi Information Office and in 2000 to the Crown Prince’s Court.


Falls Church, Va.: Why doesn't your country provide more cultural awareness in the U.S. so that Americans can be better educated about your country?

Adel Al-Jubeir: Very good question. We are trying to reach as broad an American audience as possible and we're doing it at several levels. We have outreach programs that have participated in events in over 100 cities over the past year and a half. We encourage trade delegations to visit the U.S. and we encourage trade delegations to visit Saudi Arabia. We have outreach programs for universities and high schools. We encourage the media to visit Saudi Arabia in order to report accurately on the Kingdom and we continually arrange press briefings in the United States. We're always looking for more ways to educate the American public about Saudi Arabia.

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Greenwich, CT: Why does the Kingdom support madrassas that teach hatred, bigotry, and jihad against the United States and other European countries?

Adel Al-Jubeir: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not support the so-called madrassas. With regard to the Saudi education system, we have reviewed our curriculum and made changes to it to ensure that our students are better prepared for the modern world and to ensure that they learn the values of tolerance and understanding.

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Montreal, Quebec, Canada: How will your Kingdom adapt to the ever-changing situations in the Middle East, and especially towards Israel?

Adel Al-Jubeir: Saudi Arabia is part and parcel of the Middle East and what happens in our region affects us. We are continually seeking to ensure stability, security, and peace which will allow us to focus our resources on development and nation-building and on providing our citizens with a better future. Saudi Arabia has always played a major role in trying to bring about peace and stability to the region, including trying to seek a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Two years ago, the Crown Prince put forth a peace initiative which would provide recognition of Israel and normal relations between Israel and all Arab countries in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. This initiative was supported by the vast majority of countries around the world and is still on the table.

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Crystal River, Florida: Please define women's rights in Saudi Arabia. Why are women not allowed to drive? Is this because of the denomination of Islam practiced there? Are women allowed to hold higher-paying professional careers?

Adel Al-Jubeir: Saudi Arabia has come a long way in the area of women's rights. Forty years ago, there were no schools for women. Today half the student body is female. Participation rates of women in the labor force in 1980 were a fraction of what they are today. Today Saudi women are doctors, engineers, businesswomen, bankers, and investors. One-third of the membership of the Chamber of Commerce is female and Saudi women own over 22,000 businesses. Some of our top doctors and some of our most prominent executives are women. With regard to wages, Saudi women earn equal pay for equal work compared to men. The matter of driving is a cultural matter, and I believe in time it will be resolved.

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Waukegan, IL: Given the close and long-standing relationship between Bush and the Saudi Royal Family, is the Saudi government persuading Bush to take an even-handed stance towards the question of Palestinian self-determination?

Adel Al-Jubeir: Saudi Arabia believes that resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is vital to the region's future. We believe that we all must work to remove hatred from people's hearts and bring about peace and stability. This will create an environment which will ensure a prosperous future for all people in the Middle East. The United States plays an important role in facilitating negotiations between the two sides and we believe that in order for this role to be effective, the U.S. must be even-handed. And we have urged the U.S. to do so since the conflict first began.

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Jackson, MS: I understand that Islamic belief includes "giving" funds to charity. I also understand you have stopped, or begun filtering how money is given to charities in your country. Doesn't this have a dramatic negative affect on charities and your citizen's feeling about giving?

Adel Al-Jubeir: You are correct. The giving of charity is part of our faith and our citizens have been very generous in helping those less fortunate. The new regulations that we have put in place to ensure that all funds are accounted for and reach their intended recipients were designed to ensure that nobody takes advantage of the generosity and charity of our citizens for evil purposes. I believe that our citizens value these new regulations and procedures because they ensure that any money they donate is not misused.

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Mclean, Virginia: Senator Charles Schumer has repeatedly accused the KSA of internationally raising price of oil. Why is that? Also, people always ask: Is the Kingdom cooperating with the United States, but I ask: Is the United States cooperating with Saudi Arabia?

Adel Al-Jubeir: I have great respect for Senator Schumer. But when it comes to Saudi Arabia, his positions are very contradictory, and it is difficult to understand what his point is. With regard to the price of oil, the Kingdom's policy has been consistent for thirty years.

We believe that high oil prices hurt consumers in the short run and hurt producers in the long run by slowing economic growth and thereby future demand. We also believe that low oil prices hurt producers in the short term by reducing their income, and consumers in the long term by stimulating demand and setting the stage for shortages which inevitably result in price increases. Our policy is to keep prices moderate for the benefit of both producers and consumers. We believe that the optimum price should be between $22-28 a barrel and are working very hard to achieve that. The current price spike, we believe, is in large part a function of speculation and concerns about political risk.

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Dallas, Texas: There is much reported dislike by Saudis toward the U.S. Articles in your country praise efforts by people in Iraq and other places to fight against the U.S. and kill our troops. Why do your people think that Americans are evil?

Adel Al-Jubeir: I don't believe that this is correct. Public opinion polls in Saudi Arabia show that the Saudi public has very positive feelings towards the United States, towards American culture, and towards the American people. However, our public is not too happy with some of America's policies in the Middle East. And we should not confuse disagreeing or disliking a policy with disliking a people.

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Secaucus, New Jersey: With regard to the war in Iraq, for months I read that Saudi Arabia was uncooperative and would not allow U.S. troops to use Saudi bases to launch attacks. Recently, I've seen stories that say the opposite, that U.S. troops were all over Saudi Arabia. Which version is realistic?
Adel Al-Jubeir: Saudi Arabia has been a friend and ally of the United States for almost seventy years. We have been steadfast in our friendship and have never let the U.S. down.

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Elkhart, Indiana: Sometimes I think the complexity of the situation in the Middle East is simply beyond comprehension, and thus makes our alliance with Saudi Arabia all the more significant.

Adel Al-Jubeir: Thank you, I appreciate your sentiment.

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San Mauel, AZ: It was stated that Saudi Arabia is willing to build two new refineries to serve primarily the American market. Who will finance the construction?

Adel Al-Jubeir: I would imagine the entity that wants to build the refineries would be the one to pay for them.

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Orangeburg, South Carolina: What do you think is the biggest problem affecting the U.S.-Saudi relationship? What do you recommend we do to correct the problem?

Adel Al-Jubeir: Mutual understanding. It is unfortunate that many of our perceptions of each other are based on misperceptions. The more public we are about our relationship and the more open we are with each other, the more likely it is that we will understand each other better and better understanding leads to better relations. We don't have this problem in the official relationship between our two governments, but unfortunately, it does exist among our respective publics. And we are trying our best to explain Saudi Arabia to the American people in order to overcome any misunderstandings. That's one of the reasons I'm here today.

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Port Angeles, WA: I heard that Saudi Arabia was going to initiate voting for the general public for certain municipal positions. Has this been started? Also, will women be able to vote for these positions?

Adel Al-Jubeir: Saudi Arabia has embarked upon a comprehensive program of reform that includes economic as well as political reforms. The political reforms seek to streamline decision-making and broaden political participation in order to give our people a greater voice in the management of the country. The decision to hold municipal elections has been made and we are currently studying the modalities of those elections, including who gets to vote. We expect to have the modalities in place this year. Stay tuned.

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Hammond, Louisiana: Firstly, I would like to commend Mr. Al-Jubeir on his willingness to conduct this online discussion. I have seen him many times on TV and he truly articulates his positions very well. Does the Royal family have any long-term plans in implementing political changes in Saudi Arabia?

Adel Al-Jubeir: Thank you. I appreciate the compliment. The Royal Family is committed to providing Saudi citizens with a better future and is determined to do whatever is necessary to ensure that. That is why the country has embarked upon a comprehensive reform program.

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Phoenix, MD: What will Saudi Arabia do to bring together Middle Eastern nations to fight terrorist threats that have spread all over the world?

Adel Al-Jubeir: We are working very closely with other countries in the war on terrorism. We believe that this war can only be won if there is close cooperation among peace-loving countries. We have set up joint task forces with other countries to go after the terrorists and those who finance them. We are also working with the international community to put in place mechanisms to disrupt movement of terrorists or their funds. We have signed agreements with other countries for the extradition of criminals.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Is Saudi Arabia really serious about political reform, or is this just window dressing to appease the Americans?

Adel Al-Jubeir: Saudi Arabia is absolutely serious about political reform because we believe that it is in the best interest of our country and our people.

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Vienna, VA: What is your country doing to provide jobs for the large youth population who are now educated in Saudi Arabia, but with no jobs? This creates opportunities for al Qaeda to recruit dissatisfied youth.

Adel Al-Jubeir: We are opening up our economy, we are privatizing industries, we are seeking membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO). There are over 20 sectors of our economy that have been identified for privatization. We are opening up our energy sector for investment. In short, we are embarking on a comprehensive plan for economic reform which we believe will attract investment and generate jobs for our youth. It is only in an environment of prosperity and stability that we make it difficult for evil-doers to recruit.

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Nashville, TN: How do you see U.S. and Saudi relations 10 or 15 years from now?

Adel Al-Jubeir: I expect our relationship to further strengthen, deepen, and broaden. If you look at the history of the relationship between our two countries over the past six decades, you will see that with each passing decade it has grown stronger and stronger. And I expect the strength to continue. 9-11 has created doubts among the American public about Saudi Arabia, but I believe as the American public begins to realize -- as it has -- that Saudi Arabia is a friend and ally that works closely with the U.S. to root out the scourge of terrorism, much of that doubt will begin to dissipate.

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Dale Texas: I read the news from the Saudi Arabia website and enjoy it very much. What do you see as our two countries' greatest goals in the next 10 years?

Adel Al-Jubeir: Thank you. I'm glad you're enjoying our Embassy's website. I believe the most important goal for our two countries is to ensure the safety of our citizens and to provide them with the means to prosper.

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College Park, Maryland: Given the media predisposition and propensity at always seeing Saudi Arabia in negative lights, I must say that Mr. Adel Al-Jubeir is a breath of fresh coherent air. He is a great credit to the people of Saudi Arabia and to His Royal Highness Crown Prince Abdullah.

Adel Al-Jubeir: Thank you very much.

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Orangeburg, South Carolina: I agree that both the U.S. and the Saudi public have an issue with misunderstanding each other's culture. And I have to commend you on the steps you have taken to inform the American public about your country. What can we Americans do to help dispel the misconceptions that your citizens have about our country?

Adel Al-Jubeir: I appreciate your sentiments. I wouldn't be presumptuous to tell a Super Power what to do.

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Hialeah, Florida: It is very difficult to accept the sincerity of the Saudi regime regarding the war against terrorism because the religious clergy that basically rules societal thinking holds a very rigid and extremist view of Islam. Why doesn't the Saudi regime do more to rein in such rhetoric, especially considering many of those voicing this rhetoric are government appointed?

Adel Al-Jubeir: This is an area of great misunderstanding. Yes, the Saudi religious establishment is conservative, but it does not condone violence or terrorism in any way, shape, or form. Our religious scholars have taken strong and clear and public positions in condemning anyone who does harm to the innocent, especially in the name of religion. It is unfortunate that there are some who use religion to justify evil. And these people exist in every country. I hope that you will not allow the views of a few misguided individuals to affect your perceptions of our country or our religious establishment as a whole.

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Port Angeles, WA: Where might we request educational materials about Saudi Arabia for use in classrooms?

Adel Al-Jubeir: You should contact the Information Office at the Saudi embassy. You can reach them through the embassy's website at www.SaudiEmbassy.net.

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Houston, TX: Regarding your political and economic reform programs: Do you have a particular timeline to achieve your major initiatives? And which of the initiatives do you view as most critical?

Adel Al-Jubeir: All of them are critical. We will move with deliberate speed in a manner that achieves our objectives for reform with minimum disruption to our society.

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Ballwin, MO: Is it fair to say that public opinion in Saudi Arabia toward the U.S. is so bad that Saudi Arabia is a breeding ground for terrorism against the U.S.?

Adel Al-Jubeir: Not at all. Public opinion in Saudi Arabia towards the U.S. is very positive. Where Saudis take exception with the U.S. is in the area of U.S. policy in the Middle East.

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Tulsa, OK: I am interested in visiting Saudi Arabia as a tourist to learn more about the country's rich history and culture. Is it possible for non-Muslims to visit Islamic holy sites, like Makkah and Jeddah?

Adel Al-Jubeir: Saudi Arabia is open to tourism. However, the Holy Cities of Makkah and Madinah are only accessible to Muslims. This has been the case since the beginning of our faith.

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Fort Worth, Tx: Do you feel Al-Qaeda is a future threat to Saudi Arabia?

Adel Al-Jubeir: It is a present threat to Saudi Arabia as we have seen in the Riyadh bombings of May and November 2003 and in the bombing last week. They have declared war on us and they continue to seek ways to harm us. But we are determined to confront them and fight them, and those who support them or condone their actions, with vigor until we crush them. Our public demands no less of us. There should be no doubt that we will win this war.

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Chicago, IL: I hope the people in the Middle East will grant the U.S. citizens grace and forgiveness for our seeming indifference to the issues you are all facing. I am aware it is a very sensitive issue, but I wonder what your feelings regarding the 'fence' and its location are?

Adel Al-Jubeir: We believe that construction of the wall is detrimental to the peace process, and will contribute -- as it has -- to increasing distrust and anger. We should be breaking down walls of distrust, not building them. We believe that the only way to resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is through negotiations that ensure a just settlement. Trying to create realities on the ground, such as the construction of the wall, only complicates matters.

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Woodbridge, VA: No offense intended, but the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis. If we are such good friends, then how do you explain this?

Adel Al-Jubeir: Yes, fifteen of the nineteen were Saudis. And this is a great source of pain for us. But we know why Bin Laden chose to put fifteen Saudis on the planes: it was a deliberate act to give the crime a Saudi face to create a wedge between our two countries. We know from the interrogations of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the chief of Al Qaeda operations that the original plan called for twenty nationalities on the planes but that Bin Laden decided to use as many Saudis as possible for the operation. Remember that Al Qaeda has membership from over fifty countries and they could have chosen any nationality to put on the planes but they chose Saudis.

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California City, Calif.: How safe are the Americans and their families living and working in Saudi Arabia, and what is being done to ensure their safety?

Adel Al-Jubeir: We are determined to ensure the safety of our citizens and residents, and we will do everything we can to make sure that no harm befalls them.

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New York, NY: How can one call Saudi Arabia a friend and an ally when it is the source of funding and moral thinking for fundamental Islamist terrorism?

Adel Al-Jubeir: Saudi Arabia is on the forefront in the war on terrorism. We have captured over 600 terrorist suspects, we have frozen bank accounts of suspected financiers of terror, we have put in place mechanisms to ensure that no one can take advantage of our charities. Our religious scholars have taken strong and public positions against terrorism. Our record in the war against terrorism is clear. The State Department's annual report on terrorism, which was released yesterday, was very positive in it's praise of our counterterrorism efforts.

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Alexandria, VA.: Does the Saudi government permit its citizens to donate money to groups which both operate hospitals and carry out suicide bombings? If so, is it possible that money that Saudis provide to Hamas ends up financing terror?

Adel Al-Jubeir: Saudi Arabia does not fund Hamas or suicide bombers. Our senior religious authority condemned suicide bombings years ago.

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washingtonpost.com: Our hour is about up. This has been a great session and we appreciate Adel Al-Jubeir's willingness to answer questions for the last hour.

Adel Al-Jubeir: This was fun. Thanks for the time. If you need any information, feel free to visit our embassy's website.

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The foregoing has been reproduced from a Viewpoint Discussion located on washingtonpost.com.  Participation in the Viewpoint Discussion was paid for by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

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