Hello ladies and gentlemen. Thank you, Dr. Hamre, for the kind introduction. And thank you for inviting me to speak here today. This is the first time I will have spoken at CSIS. I am both, pleased and privileged to have the opportunity to be here.
Recently, I was reminded of a story about Mark Twain, who attended an event in which one of the speakers was raising money. Twain, deeming the cause to be a worthy one, decided to donate $100. As the speaker droned on, however, Twain decided to cut his contribution in half. With no end in sight, Twain cut his offer again, to $10.
At last, the speaker finished and the collection basket was passed around. Twain reached in the basket, removed a dollar and passed it along.
I hope I don’t have the same impact on you, and I am not looking for a collection, therefore I will be sure to keep my remarks brief to allow time for good questions.
Today, I was asked to discuss the road ahead for Saudi-U.S. relations. I would say that if this question were posed to me five years ago, or even three years ago, I would have a very different answer. But I say to you that today – as a result of serious work on both sides – there are a lot of positive things to say.
Right now, on an official level, relations between our countries are stronger than they have ever been. Indeed, the terrorists miscalculated in their attempts to drive our nations apart. They only stirred a resolve that has resulted in greater cooperation and coordination between us. This has come to extend far beyond the war on terror.
Most importantly, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have even come to recognize that our enduring relations are bound by much more than oil. We have a number of important pillars that support our relationship. I can think of six: oil, trade, the war on terrorism, Middle East stability, military cooperation, and the mutual fondness that we have for each other. These pillars form our foundation. They define our interaction and provide us with concrete reasons why our nations continue to work together successfully.
But where do we go from here? How do we continue to improve our relationship? There are still many issues left unresolved. There are still sticking points.
To address the challenges before us and the challenges ahead, the first thing we have done is to put in place stronger links between our two governments and an institutional framework to better manage the many complex issues we have on our common agenda. The clearest example of how this is taking shape is the Saudi-U.S. Strategic Dialogue.
This new mechanism is intended to institutionalize relations between our countries, to overcome inevitable differences and to align our resources and capabilities to a greater extent. The Strategic Dialogue is progressing through regular meetings between the Saudi Foreign Minister and the U.S. Secretary of State and the establishment of Working Groups from both governments to work constructively and comprehensively, on a continuous basis, in a range of issues of importance to both countries.
The first meeting occurred during King Abdullah’s visit with President Bush last year in Crawford, and since then Foreign Minister Prince Saud and Secretary of State Rice have met twice for the Strategic Dialogue. The gatherings are open to candid discussion in a collegial atmosphere. There are also meetings of the six Working Groups, which include: Energy; Economic and Financial Affairs; Consular Affairs; Partnership, Education, Exchange and Human Resources; Military Affairs; and Counterterrorism.
I shall tell you now, how the Strategic Dialogue works.
In the beginning of May, President Bush invited me to a "getting to know you meeting" at the White House. During a thorough review of issues, I made the point to the President that solving the Palestinian Problem will allow us to go on to solve the other problems in the area.
Three weeks later, the meeting of the Strategic Dialogue took place. Prince Saud delivered to the President a letter from King Abdullah offering to work with the President in solving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The President, then, instructed Secretary Rice to follow up with Prince Saud on the details. Alas, the capture of the two Israeli soldiers led to the Israeli invasion, and destruction of Lebanon.
The King sent Prince Saud back, in July, to stress to the President the need for an immediate cease fire; and, again, to press for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Prince Bandar bin Sultan and Adel Al-Jubeir accompanied Prince Saud, and in August, they came back to Washington to follow up on these issues. The present activity is a direct result of these joint efforts. The next meeting of the Strategic Dialogue will take place in Riyadh in December.
Another step we are taking to improve relations is to increase our people-to-people contact. The Kingdom is encouraging more delegations of officials, and business leaders, and citizens to come to the United States to share their views and to learn in kind. We have also expanded a scholarship program to send our students to college abroad. Many of our students will be coming to the United States. More than 10,000 are already studying here. They will not only be receiving a world-class education, they will be forming the next generation of friendships and bonds between Saudis and Americans. They will be the true ambassadors.
And yet another thing we can do is develop better relations between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. Congress. This is a priority for us. My colleagues and I have been meeting with members of Congress. We have been working to answer their concerns and questions about the Kingdom, and express to them our concerns and our questions about how we view our relationship with the U.S. There are a lot of issues on this level, as your representatives in both Houses of Congress are some of our toughest critics.
But, as the saying goes, “it takes two to tango.” There are also things that the U.S. needs to do, such as facilitating visas for Saudi citizens, encouraging U.S. trade delegations to visit the Kingdom, and promoting dialogue between intellectuals in both countries.
For a country of such critical importance to American, regional, and global affairs, we encourage American representatives to come to the Kingdom. We want them to see our country. We want them to meet our businessmen. We want them to hear from our citizens – our men, our women, and our children. I am confident that if they come to the Kingdom, their outlook will change for the positive.
This brings me to my last observation on how we can improve our relationship in the future. I think the type of discourse between the United States and Saudi Arabia needs to change. We don’t mind being criticized. There is a well-known saying in Arabic: “Your true friend is one who is honest with you, not one who agrees with you.” 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.
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 tell us to. We are changing and reforming our society because it is the right thing to do for our country. And we will do so in our own way, in accordance with our traditions and culture. Making dictums leads nowhere. Constructive comments, on the other hand, are more helpful.
We also want to see reform in the United States. Your reform of campaign contributions is essential and needed, yesterday, not tomorrow. Your policy towards 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.
Why not productively engage us instead of engaging in rhetoric that seems designed to drive us apart? Currently, we find the analysis of Saudi Arabia lacking. It does not have a clear and real understanding of what is going on in the Kingdom, and appears to be emotionally driven. It needs to be less revealing of political agenda, and more of good sense and plain dealing. That would be helpful to both sides.
Your opinions, your thoughts, and your analyses are not just considered by Americans. They are considered by Saudis, too. And, if we want to improve the state of our relations, it would behoove us to improve every level of our communications. Our interests are too intertwined. If you look at the problems we’re facing today – the war on terrorism, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, energy, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – none of these problems can be faced alone. We must work together to find solutions to these challenges.
Our relationship today has matured. It was tested by the tragic events of 9-11 and emerged stronger than before. Officials in both countries recognize the need to put in place institutional frameworks to further solidify the relationship. This effort, I am pleased to report, is proceeding very well, and I am confident that the future of our relationship will be – God willing – a bright one.
I hope this has provided you with an idea of where the Saudi-U.S. relationship is heading. I now look forward to hearing your perspective, and would be glad to answer any questions you may have. Thank you.(full transcript)