Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Turki Al-Faisal gave an overview of the Kingdom’s perspective on Saudi-US relations five years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington today.
Prior to September 11, the Saudi-US relationship worked because the two countries had common interests with oil at the center. “But, our sensitivities to each other’s sensitivities led us to keep things from each other. And criticisms definitely festered beneath the surface on both sides,” Prince Turki noted.
After the September 11 attacks, the relationship was in crisis. Criticism of the Kingdom abounded in the media and in books. “There now existed deep suspicion, mistrust, and misperception. Everything had to be reexamined,” Prince Turki said. “It was a horrible period of time.”
Today, both countries are emerging from that period of crisis and confirming their commitment to each other and to the Saudi-US alliance, Prince Turki remarked. Many of the world’s challenges, such as stability in the Middle East, the war on terrorism and energy security, can’t be met alone, and require cooperation between the two countries.
In addition, both countries recognized that the Saudi-US relationship is based on much more than oil, Prince Turki said. There are a number of important pillars that form the foundation of the relationship, including oil, trade, counterterrorism, Middle East stability and military cooperation.
The ambassador outlined four ways to help Saudi Arabia and the US improve relations and address current and future challenges. First, there must be stronger links between the two governments and an institutional framework to deal with complex issues. A good example is the Saudi-US Strategic Dialogue, which has already met twice.
Second, there must be more people-to-people contact – more Americans should visit the Kingdom, and more Saudis should come to America to share their views and learn, Prince Turki said. To that end, the Kingdom has expanded scholarship programs for students, with most coming to the United States.
Third, there should be a focus on developing better relations between Saudi Arabia and Congress, a matter that is a personal priority, Prince Turki said. More members of Congress should visit the Kingdom and see what it is really like, he suggested.
Finally, the type of discourse between the United States and Saudi Arabia needs to change. There should be more constructive commentary, not political rhetoric that hardens all elements of society and makes reform in the Kingdom more difficult.
“Americans want to see and hear about reform and change in Saudi society and political culture. This is on the agenda. But we’re not going to change just because you told us to. We are changing and reforming our society because it is the right thing to do for our country,” Prince Turki said.