Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for inviting me to take part in your series on the Middle East. It is a privilege to be able to contribute to your understanding of the issues that affect us all so much. I view this series as a testament to the impressive lengths by which the Tower Hill School educates its students.
Under Headmaster Wheeler’s guidance – and with fine teachers like Dr. Wasson – this educational institution is certainly giving its students something to take away with them as they go on to college and beyond. Your parents and teachers deserve thanks for providing you with such great opportunities.
I understand that to complement this series you have been learning about the Middle East in your classes. No doubt when you read the paper or watch TV, the region is also discussed widely. Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Iran, all face serious issues. These issues may seem incredibly complex. There are Christians, Jews, and Muslims – each represented by various denominations and sects. There are Arabs and Persians and Kurds. And there are national identities and histories to further complicate matters.
The fact that you are all willing to engage this challenging area is highly commendable. But if even one of you can be inspired to some day contribute to finding solutions, then, you will be going a long way to helping your fellow man. We need more people who are willing to take up the cause of peace. So I thank you all for your interest.
Ladies and Gentlemen: If we consider the specific issues at hand – which include the war in Iraq, Afghanistan’s fight for stability, vicious contention between Lebanon and Israel and Palestine and Israel, and Iran’s nuclear ambition – we know that solutions are not going to come overnight. They are going to take time and patience.
But with so many issues, where do we begin? Is there any one place where the international community can focus that will bring real change? Indeed, where is the heart of the problem?
Ladies and gentlemen, there is just such a place. The cause of most of these issues – or the factor that is making them more complicated – is both clear and simple to understand. It is the dispute between Palestine and Israel.
Besides being a conflict between two peoples, the situation with Palestine and Israel has become an impediment to international stability. Without forging a solution, we will continue to be unable to secure lasting peace throughout the Middle East. And this turmoil, as we have all witnessed, will be echoed across the world.
Terrorists use the conflict to justify their evil acts around the world. Extremists use the conflict to recruit people to their cause. If you could see what people in the Middle East see on television every night, your opinion would change dramatically. For too long, the Palestinian people have endured great injustices and hardships. Many thousands live in hopeless poverty and thousands more have been uprooted from their homes. All have been deprived of minimum human and national rights.
Since peace is manifestly in the interest of the region and the world at large, it is that much more incumbent on leading powers, including Saudi Arabia and the United States, to be consistent – and insistent – in moving Palestine and Israel towards the known outlines of a durable settlement.
The path to peace begins with peaceful coexistence between a Palestinian state and an Israeli state, and peace between Israel and the entire Arab world.
To this end, Saudi Arabia understands its role. What we have done, and what we are doing, is to act as a voice of reason and moderation. And we have worked to bring the Arab world together to support the peace process.
Starting a quarter of a century ago, Saudi Arabia, under the leadership of then Crown Prince Fahd, offered a simple vision: If Israel and Palestine can find a peaceful territorial compromise along the lines of UN Resolutions 242 and 338, under which Israel would withdraw from the lands it occupied in the 1967 War, including Jerusalem, and make peace with a Palestinian state, then the Arab world would not only accept Israel’s existence, but have normal relations with it.
This plan, echoed and expanded by then-Crown Prince, now King Abdullah at the Arab Summit in Beirut in March 2002, generated worldwide support because it went to the heart of the matter – land for peace – and defined it in terms acceptable to both peoples.
Even after the events of this summer – the capture of the Israeli soldiers followed by the destructive and vicious bombardment of Palestine and Lebanon – the Abdullah Peace Plan still stands as the best plan. What is left now is for reasonable minds on both sides to look at this historic offer objectively and without emotion, and to work to put it in place.
While Saudi Arabia, as a single nation, can continue to provide aid and support peace and stability, this is not something we can accomplish alone. It is time for the United States to take action and do what it has been talking about within the framework of the Road Map.
Indeed, the basic failure of international diplomacy toward the Middle East in the past 50 years has been a lack of implementation. We’ve had ideas and proposals, resolutions and initiatives for five decades without any concrete implementation. We now have the Road Map – as outlined by President Bush – and the Abdullah Peace Plan. Let them be implemented.
Last week I was at an event with your Secretary of State, Dr. Rice, and I made this very clear. U.S. policy must change and move toward a solution. In fact, the Saudi government has been clearer and clearer on this point. And right now we are encouraged by the discussions we are having with your government. But encouragement is not enough. When it comes to Middle East peace, hope is too easily dashed.
This may sound very direct. It is meant to be. We should be direct with one another – especially when it comes to matters of such great importance. But also, we are direct because we can be.
Saudi Arabia and the United States share a long and special relationship, one that is some 70 years old. We have always been forthright with one another. We have been open and honest. And so we will continue to be.
About a year ago, when I delivered my diplomatic credentials to Secretary Rice, I reminded her of a story about Winston Churchill. He came to Washington during the war years when President Roosevelt wanted to honor him by putting him up in the White House instead of Blair House. One night, Mr. Roosevelt wheeled into Mr. Churchill’s room and found him stark naked. Embarrassed, Roosevelt tried to wheel back out quickly. But Churchill turned to him and he said: “Mr. President, the Prime Minister of England has nothing to hide from the President of the United States.”
I assured your Secretary of State that I was not going to come to her naked on any occasion, but that that is the kind of relationship Saudi Arabia would like to have with the United States. We have nothing to hide.
Now, with that in mind, I would be glad to answer any questions you may have. Thank you again for inviting me, and for your patience and attention.