Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Turki Al-Faisal gave an address on Saudi-US relations at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington today.Relations between the two countries are “stronger than they have ever been,” Prince Turki said. As an example of enhanced cooperation, the Saudi-US Strategic Dialogue was established to provide an institution framework to solidify the relationship. This effort is going very well, Prince Turki noted.
Prince Turki also pointed out areas for improvement in the Saudi-US relationship. These include more people-to-people contact, more American representatives visiting the Kingdom, and better relations between Saudi Arabia and Congress.
In addition, the discourse between the two countries should change, with more of a focus on constructive criticism, Prince Turki said. “We don’t mind being criticized,” he said. “But it is the way in which Americans criticize, whether it is politicians or public figures or thought leaders, that causes us concern. We often hear political rhetoric and bombast and not constructive commentary.”
Analysis of Saudi Arabia in the United States also needs improvement, Prince Turki said. “It needs to be less revealing of political agenda and more of good sense and plain dealing. That would be helpful to both sides,” he said. “If you want to improve the state of our relations, it would behoove us to improve every level of our communications.”
Turning to reform in the Kingdom, Prince Turki said that the Kingdom would reform at its own pace in line with its traditions and culture.
“Americans want to see and hear about reform and change in Saudi society and political culture. That is on the agenda,” he said. “But we're not going to change just because you tell us to. We are changing and reforming our society because it is the right thing to do for our people and our country. And we will do so in our own way, in accordance with our traditions and culture.”
Prince Turki noted that the Kingdom would also like to see reforms in the United States, particularly regarding US policy towards the Arab world. “Your policy toward the Arab world must change and be reformed in order to overcome the slump in America’s standing in my country and in every other Arab and Muslim country,” he said.
He also noted the importance of reform in the US political system. “Your reform of campaign contributions is essential and needed yesterday, not tomorrow,” he said.
Prince Turki also addressed questions on various regional issues.
He expressed the hope that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s current visit to the Middle East, which included a stop in Saudi Arabia, is a signal that the United States is taking a more active role in reviving the Middle East peace process.
Meeting challenges sometimes requires pressure from an outside source, he said. “America has not been playing that role for the past few years,” Prince Turki said. “And we think that this may be a time for the United States to put its foot forward and do what it has been talking about within the framework of the road map.”
On Iran, he said that he thinks it is a mistake for the United States not to talk to Iran. “We’ve found, in our experience, that when we did not talk to Iran – our relations were broken for a period of a few years in the '90s – we had more troubles with each other. But since then, our relationship has improved dramatically and beneficially for both our countries,” he said. “So we think that negotiation and talking to people is more important than shutting the doors on them.”
Prince Turki also said he did not think there would be a sectarian civil war in Iraq. “Most of Iraq, not only in the Arab side of Iraq, but also in the north, where majority Kurds live, the links and the interlinks between Shia and Sunni go beyond the capability of anybody to drive them apart,” he said.