Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you. Mr. Fares, thank you as well for the kind introduction.
I appreciate being invited here this evening by the US-Arab Economic Forum. Economic cooperation and business partnerships play a critical role in US relations with the Arab world. Gatherings like this are not merely for intellectual exchange; they are important opportunities to build business and personal relationships that bring us closer together as people and as nations.
I believe the last Saudi official who spoke before this forum was our Foreign Minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, in 2003. He spoke about the state of Saudi-US relations in the post-9/11 era. Although it was only three years ago, it was such a different world back then. From the US perspective, Saudi Arabia was not very well understood. Lingering doubts from September 11 led some to question whether we were friend of foe. And the Kingdom was also emerging from a period of introspection and self assessment. Much has changed since then.
Though the Saudi-US relationship was severely tested during this time, our alliance has emerged stronger than ever before in our 60-year history.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Today, Saudi Arabia is not simply an ally. We are a partner, and a major force for peace and stability.
We are working towards peace and stability at home, in our region, and around the world. And tonight, I would like to share with you some of our current efforts. There are many challenges facing the global community – economic growth, energy security, the war on terrorism, and Middle East peace, to name a few. And in each area, the Kingdom plays an important role.
King Abdullah has affirmed that Saudi Arabia will continue to rise to the challenges and responsibilities of our leadership position. This is because of our place as the home of the Islamic faith. Because of our strategic geopolitical location. Because of our energy reserves. And because we are a full, contributing member of the global community.
Indeed, Saudi Arabia has long been an active and effective partner for regional and global stability – from our stand against communism throughout the Cold War – to our record of delivering every single barrel of oil to which we were committed – to our help in finding peaceful solutions in war torn areas like Lebanon – even to our successful efforts to build up the Gulf Cooperation Council over the years. It is part of our heritage and our future to continue in this tradition.
Ladies and Gentlemen: We recognize that to contribute fully to the world community, we must also continue to achieve growth, stability, and harmony at home. Under the leadership of King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia has pursued an ambitious agenda of economic, political, and social reform.
One of the cornerstones of our modernization efforts is economic development, which is providing the Saudi people with increasing opportunity and improved quality of life. In truth, the Kingdom actually has a long history of business and commerce. Our ancestors plied the ancient trading routes of the Arabian Peninsula. The Prophet Muhammad – peace be upon him – was a trader who worked the caravan route between Damascus and Makkah, and in the employ of a businesswoman no less: the blessed Khadija bint Khuwelid.
But during the last two decades, we have taken many steps to modernize our system. The Kingdom has been liberalizing its trade policies, enacting new regulatory laws, increasing transparency, and opening up our economy to investment. We have also enacted a new law allowing foreign businessmen and women to obtain visas without an invitation.
The Kingdom is open for business and is fostering an environment friendly to international trade and investment. As a result, Saudi Arabia now proudly stands as a member of the World Trade Organization.
The Saudi economy is currently booming. And not just in the energy sector, but in many diversified industries. The World Bank even rates Saudi Arabia’s business environment as the best in the Middle East. In fact, there will be more than $700 billion in investment opportunities that will be generated in the Kingdom over the next 20 years.
In addition to the oil and petrochemical sectors, investment opportunities will come in the shape of growing industries, such as information technology, financial services, and tourism. We are also creating centers of commerce and business, like the King Abdullah Economic City. This $26 billion mega-project will be a next generation center of finance, healthcare, and technological development. This city is just one of four new economic centers that are being created in the Kingdom. And represents just one of many areas of economic development.
While economic reform is a key driver in our society, we are, as I mentioned, also pursuing an agenda of social and political reform. We are providing our citizens with the training to succeed in the global economy. We have undertaken a multi-year modernization program of our education system, including teacher training and new textbooks and curricula. Through a scholarship program, we are sending our students to be educated around the globe, where they are receiving a world-class education, making friends, and building new bridges of understanding.
Political reforms are also being implemented to increase citizen participation, such as last year’s elections for municipal councils. More elections are planned for the future in order to give our people a more direct say in the decisions that affect them.
Saudi Arabia’s goal is also to promote peace and stability in our region. The Roman poet Horace once wrote: “It is your concern when your neighbor’s wall is on fire.” Right now, our neighbors’ walls are ablaze. Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine all require immediate attention. In addition, the situation with Iran calls for international engagement and diplomacy. In each of these circumstances, the Kingdom is doing what it can to bring parties together, open up dialogues, and offer solutions for peace and progress.
Many of the world’s problems also require humanitarian assistance, such as for natural disasters, disease and poverty. In those areas Saudi Arabia is a leader. Many people don’t know that the Kingdom contributes more per capita in foreign aid than any other country in the world. We have also provided hundreds of millions of dollars to victims of the tsunami in the Indian Ocean region, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the earthquakes in Pakistan and, most recently, in Indonesia.
But while we, as a single nation, can provide aid and support peace and stability, this is not something we can accomplish alone. We must work with other members of the global community, particularly the United States, to solve these problems in our region. The US cannot deal with them without us. And we cannot deal with them without the United States. And I am confident that, together, we will be able to find solutions to the challenges that confront us.
Together, we can forge unity in Iraq. Together, we can find a peaceful two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Together, we will continue to support stability and peace in Afghanistan. And together, we can ensure there is an open dialogue between the world and Iran in order to avoid potential conflict. Because each cause is critical.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Throughout human history, we, as a community of nations, have always found the strength and resolve to overcome even the greatest challenges. Because it is the hope of success that makes us feel our humanity. So tonight, I lay down the following challenges for all of us.
First, to Saudi Arabia, I challenge ourselves to meet the needs of our youth and ensure that they have the education, the tools and the means to help change the world, and become a force for good and tolerance.
I challenge the Palestinian people to give up the armed struggle and follow the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King by engaging in civil disobedience instead of violence, even in the face of Israeli guns. Violence is the weapon of the weak; non-violence is the weapon of the strong.
I challenge the Israeli people to give up their illegal, immoral and colonial occupation of Palestine.
I challenge the United States to use the power and abilities with which God has blessed this great nation to bring about an end to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict through the implementation of the President’s Roadmap.
And I challenge the Arab-Americans in this audience tonight to take a more active part in resolving the conflicts that exist in the world today. We must compel the governments of the world to take the required actions to end the injustices that fuel tensions, distrust, hatred and violence.
And so as you leave this conference, I implore each of you to continue in your own right—as ambassadors from the Arab world. Whether you are from Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, or any other part of the Arab world, you should be proud of your Arab heritage and legacy—which truly does extend here to the United States. You should be proud of the contributions Arabs have made to the advancement of humanity over the centuries, and to the greatness of American culture and life. And you should be proud of yourselves, for you are the only ones who can bridge the gap between the two great societies. It is not always easy, but it will always be rewarding. And it can’t be done without you.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Of all the nations in the world, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. are two of the most important when it comes to affecting positive change to the world’s most difficult issues. Indeed, we have come far and done a lot as partners. For our own good and for the good of the world, it is incumbent on our nations to continue to face these challenges together.
As Secretary of State Rice said at the most recent meeting of the Saudi-US Strategic Dialogue, the partnership between the Kingdom and the US is, quote: “A relationship that is critically important not just to the peace and security of the region, but to the peace and security of the world.” This is true.
This is also where all of you enter into the equation. Relations between the Arab world and America require constant attention. The US-Arab Economic Forum can help strengthen the bonds we share through trade and economic development – not only to the region, but to American businesses as well.
By strengthening the relations we have, you are creating stability. By building business together, you are producing ties that bind. By opening yourselves up for future friendships, you are fostering a new generation of partnership. We know who our friends are, who we can count on, and who we can trust. And this is the greatest force for peace and stability of all.
Thank you again for this opportunity, and may peace be upon you.