Ladies and Gentlemen: This is my first official speech as Ambassador. So it is a privilege to deliver it to such a distinguished audience.
I am reading a book called 1776, in which Gen. George Washington distinguishes himself by avoiding as much bloodshed as possible. Other distinguished military leaders throughout history have been the primary peacemakers that brought seemingly intractable military conflict to peaceful resolution. Eisenhower in Europe, MacArthur in Japan, Sadat in Egypt, Rabin in Israel, DeGaulle in Algeria.
This College will produce the future peacemakers.
The War College is a prestigious institution, and Saudi Arabia has had the privilege of having many of its citizens attend.
As an elite institution, the War College has a rich heritage of integrity, excellence, and outstanding service. Most importantly, though, Carlisle Barracks has a heritage of fostering community. As we face new challenges – which can only be addressed through international cooperation – having a community is a necessity. We must know who we can rely on and who we can trust.
This is because the battles we fight today have no clear front lines. The strife and conflict that exist throughout the world overlap national borders and ethnic divisions, and even cross oceans. As we all know too well, in an increasingly smaller world the stability or security of a nation far away can impact us all significantly at home.
As two nations that are of critical importance to global issues today, the United States and Saudi Arabia share a responsibility to promote understanding where none exists, broker peace where it has been seldom seen, and strengthen our own common bonds of friendship and cooperation.
I predicate this notion on the fact that each of our respective countries enjoys a unique position of influence that is complementary to that of the other, in spite of their admittedly disproportionate capabilities.
The United States is the only superpower in the world today, and this imposes responsibilities and obligations upon it. But there is also a moral dimension to being the world’s sole superpower: respect for law and compassion for the oppressed.
Saudi Arabia also has a unique position in the world. The Kingdom is the birthplace of Islam, one of the world’s three monotheistic religions, and the site of the Two Holy Mosques, where tens of millions of Muslims come from all over the world for spiritual rejuvenation and fulfillment of their religious duty. Five times a day, more than one billion Muslims turn in the direction of Makkah in prayer. Accordingly, Saudi Arabia shoulders a responsibility of influence and moral leadership.
The responsibilities of our nations give us something in common. Despite the differences of our cultures, we have always shared the same basic belief in faith, family and the importance of honest and open communication. And these common attributes have served us well in tackling global challenges throughout the world during the last 60 years.
In 1953, the first US Military Training Mission arrived in the Kingdom to supervise military assistance and training activities. A few years later, Dhahran Airbase hosted American forces as part of the containment of the former Soviet Union. From this initial interaction grew a strategic relationship to ensure global security and stability – a relationship that has included a series of cooperative efforts to address political and military issues in the Middle East, as well as in Africa and South America.
Saudi Arabia stood with the US during the 1950s and 1960s when radicalism in the Arab World threatened to lead a socialist revolution throughout the region.
When the British withdrew from the Gulf in 1970, Saudi Arabia became one of the “twin pillars” of Gulf security. When the other “twin pillar” – Iran under the Shah – became the leading price hawk in OPEC and sought to undermine the primacy of the dollar in world trade, Saudi Arabia steadily increased production to keep oil prices in check, and insisted that oil be priced only in dollars.
During the Vietnam conflict, Saudi Arabia consistently supplied as much oil as needed to US military forces – even during the 1973 oil embargo. When the US withdrew from Vietnam, Saudi Arabia stepped in quietly to provide aid to anti-Communist movements in countries that were falling rapidly into the pro-Soviet sphere: Zaire, Somalia, Angola, and Nicaragua. Most importantly, we both supported the Mujahideen in Afghanistan during 1980s, contributing to the end of the Cold War.
Within one week of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Saudi Arabia began hosting a coalition of international forces, including over 500,000 US troops and paid for all their in-country support, including free fuel for all military operations. Of all countries in the world, we made the largest direct financial contributions to the effort to liberate Kuwait.
Our troops, ladies and gentlemen, fought shoulder to shoulder with your troops to liberate Kuwait. Our air force, despite its size, made the second largest number of sorties after the US Air Force. With pride, I tell you, our boys had the highest ratio of kills per number of aircrafts.
Throughout the entire post-Gulf War period, Saudi Arabia supported the UN-sanctioned no-fly zones over Iraq by hosting American and coalition planes at Saudi bases.
Then in 2002, when the US fought its successful war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, air operations were headquartered at the Prince Sultan Airbase outside of Riyadh.
And, although we were not in favor of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Saudi Arabia has made every effort to ensure that the US succeeds in its campaign with the greatest efficiency and the least loss of life.
After Saddam’s government was overthrown and major military operations in Iraq ended, Saudi Arabia further provided a comprehensive aid package, delivered convoys of humanitarian supplies, and sent a large, fully staffed field hospital to Baghdad to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people. Saudi Arabia remains fully committed to efforts to foster a stable, peaceful and united Iraq.
A month ago, at the Kingdom’s initiative, a meeting was convened in Jeddah to seek ways to bring all Iraqi factions together: Shia, Sunni, and Kurd. The Secretary-General of the Arab League was tasked at the meeting to consult with our Iraqi brethren about convening all Iraqi factions in Egypt to discuss national reconciliation – a move supported by both the United Nations and the Bush Administration. The meeting was held, and another one will be held after the next Iraqi elections with the objective to reach an agreement on a common future in which Iraq’s unity and territorial integrity is preserved, and in which every Iraqi faction is treated justly. And in the last few days, we have worked to defuse a potentially dangerous situation in Syria by making sure that Syrian officials can be questioned by Mr. Detlev Mehlis, the UN investigator in the Hariri case.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers, near where Baghdad now stands, the origins of civilization emerged. It spread throughout the Fertile Crescent, from the Arabian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea and beyond. Now we are fighting to protect civilization in its birthplace in the Middle East. This fight is not just for the people of Iraq, or the people of the Middle East, but for people all over the world. We are a global community and our neighbors’ peace, stability, and prosperity is as important as our own.
As strategic partners, the US and Saudi Arabia have long understood this fact. And today, we are trying to enhance the level of strategic cooperation we have had during the last 60 years.
As the American military leader, former president, and alumnus of the War College, General Dwight D. Eisenhower stated: “Though force can protect in emergency, only justice, fairness, consideration and cooperation can finally lead men to the dawn of eternal peace.”
As such, we face some clear challenges. We face the challenge of finding a just and permanent settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict, which has remained an open wound for more than 50 years.
Saudi Arabia has clearly expressed its interest in reaching a peaceful end to this conflict, based on the resolutions of international legitimacy and the principle of land for peace. The Arab Summit in 2002 adopted the peace initiative put forth by then Crown Prince, now King Abdullah for resolving the Arab-Israeli dispute.
The initiative is straightforward: In exchange for Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, and the establishment of a Palestinian state, all Arab countries would sign peace agreements with Israel, and the Arab-Israeli conflict would formally end. Normal relations between Israel and all the Arab countries would ensue.
Until the Palestinians finally have their own homeland, where they can live in peace, this conflict will remain not just a tragedy but provide terrorists with an excuse for their terrible actions. If American audiences could see what millions of Arabs see nightly on their television screens, they would understand the overwhelming emotional impact this has on the ordinary man and woman in the Middle East.
We must do everything we can to support these two peoples as they struggle to find a peaceful resolution. The US, however, is the only country that can play a vital role in this endeavor. President Bush’s commitment to a two-state solution and his declared desire to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians during his term in office is important and welcome.
I commend Secretary Rice for securing an agreement for the Palestinian people to move safely and unhindered from the Gaza Strip, but this is just the first step. The US must continue to support the process of disengagement from Gaza and the West Bank, and Saudi Arabia will continue to lend its support as well.
We must also work together to support the people of Afghanistan as they try to build a stable nation. Afghanistan has suffered greatly. Its history has been marred by invading forces, civil war, and cruel dictatorship. The country was a boiling pot of discontent which nurtured the birth of Al-Qaeda and became its first training ground.
Today, there is hope for Afghanistan. The Afghan people have fought hard against their aggressors and are now working to ensure a lasting peace. As we witness the first signs of positive development, we must support the emergence of a national government and programs to disarm illegal groups.
The effort we spend to help others – the Iraqis, the Palestinians and Israelis, and the Afghans – however, should be coupled with efforts spent to improve our own relations. We are fortunate our leadership has been taking steps in this direction.
Today, cooperation between the US and Saudi Arabia is greater than ever and has culminated in the establishment of a new way for our countries to work together and to ensure our interests are aligned: the Saudi/US Strategic Dialogue.
The Dialogue was conceived by King Abdullah and President Bush when they met in April as a way to reintroduce cooperation between our countries – the type of cooperation we have known from the day President Franklin Roosevelt first met with the founder of the modern Saudi state King Abdulaziz back in 1945. The Dialogue is intended to institutionalize relations and deepen coordination on strategic and political issues.
The Saudi Foreign Minister and US Secretary of State have already met to commence the first session. The Strategic Dialogue will meet every six months, alternating between the Kingdom and the US. Senior officials from a number of departments and ministries from both countries will participate. Six initial working groups have been created: Energy; Economic and Financial Affairs; Consular Affairs; Partnership, Education and Human Development in the US and Saudi Arabia; Military Affairs; and Counterterrorism.
The Strategic Dialogue helps us in many ways, including keeping our countries at the forefront of combating our most common threat: terrorism. Terrorism, ladies and gentlemen, is unacceptable under any circumstance. The taking of innocent lives is condemned by all the revealed religions, as well as by all universal values.
Saudi Arabia currently operates two joint task forces with the US to combat terrorism and terrorism financing. These task forces have been effective in achieving their missions, and have become a model for how nations can work together to defeat this evil.
Our nations are clear targets of the terrorist groups, including Al-Qaeda, which seek to disrupt our longstanding cooperation. We have suffered together as a result: in 1995, at the Saudi National Guard Training Center in Riyadh and in Oklahoma; in 1996, at the Khobar Towers; in 2001 the attacks of September 11; and in the last three years, the Kingdom has experienced more than ten attacks, resulting in hundreds of innocent civilian deaths and more than 90 of our brave security forces have died in the line of duty.
These attacks that have shaken our communities – from the thousands of Americans who live and work in the Kingdom to the thousands of Saudis who live and work in the US – but they have not shaken our resolve.
Some people believe that the war against Al-Qaeda is a war between East and West; between Christianity and Islam. Some see it as a clash of civilizations. But I do not subscribe to these theories. We are not engaged in a clash of civilizations. We are engaged in a war for civilization.
Al-Qaeda opposes us because we are a nation trying to move forward, to modernize and become a part of the world economy. Saudi Arabia is a threat to Al-Qaeda because we are routing out the extremist philosophy they espouse, that feeds their deviant and amoral mentality. To win the war against terrorism, we must win the war of ideas.
The Saudi government has looked within its society and recognized where improvement is needed. The Kingdom is undertaking a comprehensive revision of its education system and updating its textbooks. The need for this program derives not only from the necessity to prepare our citizens for life and work in a modern, global economy, but also from the need to prevent our children from being influenced by extremism and intolerance.
Saudi religious leaders too have been consistently condemning Al-Qaeda’s actions and beliefs. It is proving to be the body most qualified to delegitimize Al-Qaeda’s twisted interpretation of Islam. Shaikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al-AsShaikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia and Chairman of the Council of Senior Ulema, recently stated:
“Killing and terrorizing innocent people and the destruction of property are not condoned by Islam. Attributing all these horrific incidents to Islam is unjust. Muslims should tell the truth and unveil falseness, and inform all people that Islam is a religion of righteousness, betterment and progress.”
Ladies and Gentlemen: Long before the US and the Kingdom had a strategic relationship there were common friendships and business relations between our countries.
Trade has always been a key part of our relationship, and the US still stands today as the Kingdom’s largest trading partner. Saudi Arabia, of course, is looking to expand and strengthen its interests, and with recent accession to the World Trade Organization, we will be able to participate more fully in the global economy. This is an important component of creating more jobs for Saudi youth and diversifying our economy away from oil. The United States’ support has been invaluable and much appreciated.
Oil, obviously, has been and will continue to be a very important aspect of Saudi/US relations. In fact, Americans were the ones who helped us discover our oil. Being a desert kingdom, water has always been a most critical, but elusive resource. So, 76 years ago, King Abdulaziz asked the American businessman Charles Crane to help explore for water. Crane sent a geologist who traveled all over the Kingdom looking for water. But after drilling well after well, he failed. No water. Luckily Crane’s geologist found oil.
(Saudi Arabia has had this problem ever since: Every time we look for water, we find oil.)
As the world’s largest producer and exporter and the world’s largest consumer and importer of oil, Saudi Arabia and the US have a natural partnership. Saudi Oil Minister Al-Naimi met with US Energy Secretary Bodman in Riyadh in mid-November to discuss ways to better ensure the stability of the oil markets.
The Energy Secretary also attended a session of the International Energy Forum, which inaugurated the new headquarters of the Forum’s permanent Secretariat in Riyadh and launched the Joint Oil Data Initiative. This database is intended to enhance the transparency of world oil markets by incorporating oil-related data from more than 90 countries.
The goal of the International Energy Forum is to promote a better dialogue between producers and consumers, and the Joint Oil Data Initiative will help to accomplish this by bringing together information to help producers and consumers plan for the future.
King Abdullah believes this undertaking is critical to maintaining a stable energy market, and is important to the world economy. In order to ensure a fair and reasonable price for and adequate supply of oil for consumers, Saudi Arabia must be able to increase its production capacity without jeopardizing the interests of future generations or damaging its oil fields. Improved planning and cooperation with consumers, like the United States, will help accomplish this.
Improving dialogue and understanding between the US and Saudi Arabia does not end with oil, however.
Saudis know the United States well. We know America because tens of thousands of Saudis have studied here, including myself. And hundreds of thousands of Saudis have come here to vacation, for medical treatment, and to visit family. Our business interactions date back to the 1930s, and our governments have cooperated successfully on many levels for decades.
However, the American people know very little about Saudi Arabia – except that it is a far away place, where the people wear robes, and there is plenty of oil, sand, and camels. In some ways this perception is improving, but I feel in many ways, Americans’ view of my country is devolving.
There is a cartoon show in the US on the Fox network called “American Dad.” It is about a C.I.A. agent. In two recent episodes, this American Dad was sent to Saudi Arabia as punishment for ruining his boss’ birthday party.
This is belied by the fact that Saudi Arabia is home to one of the largest American civilian communities in any country in the world.
I believe how we are educating ourselves about each other is critical. How we are informed affects our understanding of each other. And cartoon TV shows just don’t do it. While Saudi Arabia can accept some responsibility for this lack of understanding, we both have ways to go, and I know we are working to correct that.
The Kingdom has opened its doors to the international media, so they can observe for themselves what Saudi society is truly like, and report on it accurately.
Some independent efforts are also taking place.
At my alma mater, Georgetown University, the McDonough School of Business is coordinating programs with the Effat College for women in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. In October, representatives from both institutions met to share information about how businesses and business educators in Saudi Arabia can work together. They are also developing ways to better educate women as future business leaders.
Efforts such as this, to not only use our strengths for mutual benefit, but also to foster better cultural understanding between our nations, are critical to the future of our relationship.
While there are certainly differences between us, our common attributes far outweigh them. If this were not the case, we would not have the long history as friends and partners that we do – in business, trade, energy, fighting the war on terrorism, or seeking a stable and peaceful Middle East.
Our historic ties have evolved to become bonds of cooperation and friendship, as the global community has become smaller and our nations’ interests interlocked with those of others.
We are two nations with the fortitude, ability, and resources to act for the good of humanity. Our continued cooperation is of the utmost importance and of consequence to the future because, as did our ancestors before us, we have an obligation to our children and grandchildren, to leave our world in a better state than we found it.
Thank you, and God’s peace and blessings are upon you.