Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Saud Al-Faisal met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Jeddah yesterday as part of the first Saudi-US Joint Commission for Strategic Dialogue, a series of regular Saudi-US meetings designed to institutionalize relations and deepen coordination between the two countries on strategic and political issues.
In a joint press conference following the meeting, Prince Saud said that he and Secretary Rice discussed the various structures for the dialogue, its objectives and responsibilities. They also discussed a number of broad issues of mutual interest, Rice noted, including the course of reform in Saudi Arabia, fighting terrorism, bringing stability to Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as economic relations.
On Iraq, Prince Saud said that his fears about the disintegration of Iraq have been eased, and stressed that the Kingdom remains committed to Iraq.
“We are working within the Arab League and the work is work that goes along in helping the process that is going on to achieve its objective,” he told reporters. “Now that that step has been taken, my fears which I have expressed earlier are much more eased today than they were at the time that I expressed them.”
Turning to yesterday’s Forum for the Future in Bahrain, Prince Saud denied that the conference was a failure because it ended without the adoption of a declaration. He said that many delicate issues were discussed, and noted the high level of representation at the conference.
“I think it is to the credit of the United States that instead of pushing for a statement that has some reservations by some countries, it waited for a future meeting to adjust whatever differences that exist,” he said. “I think the conference was able to discuss many sensitive issues in a spirit of understanding, and the common ground between the countries has expanded rather than shrunk. And so I wouldn’t call it by any means a failure.”
On the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Prince Saud agreed with recent remarks by Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Turki Al-Faisal that the continuation of the conflict allows terrorists to justify their actions in the eyes of some people, and said that the conflict must be resolved. Saudi Arabia remains willing to work towards peace, he added.
Prince Saud stressed Saudi Arabia’s seriousness in combating the war on terror. “Visit the country and see whether we’re serious about fighting terror or not. Our people are being killed. Our resources are being squandered on terrorist activity. We are fighting as hard as we can. We have made incitement a crime, not just an ordinary thing that should be sanctioned,” he said. “So whatever we do, it seems that we are lacking in our efforts. But I would dare anybody to say that there is any other country that is fighting terror as hard as Saudi Arabia is.”
Prince Saud also said he believes the establishment of the Strategic Dialogue – as well as increased efforts on both sides to explain policies of mutual interest – will help improve public opinion about Saudi Arabia in the US, and vice versa.
Responding to reporters, Secretary Rice said that she did not expect the US to maintain its current troop level in Iraq because Iraqis are stepping up to their responsibilities. She reiterated US commitment to the road map for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and said that Syria has not yet shown a full desire to cooperate with the UN investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri. Rice welcomed Saudi Arabia into the World Trade Organization and noted the course of reform Saudi Arabia has taken.
The commission was established at the April, 2005 meeting between Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and President George Bush. It will meet every six months and will be co-chaired by Prince Saud and Secretary Rice, alternating between Saudi Arabia and the US. Senior officials from a number of departments and ministries from both countries will also participate. Six initial working groups have been created: Counterterrorism; Military Affairs; Energy; Economic and Financial Affairs; Consular Affairs and Partnership; and Education Exchange and Human Development in the US and Saudi Arabia.
Transcript of press conference