Ladies and Gentlemen: Thank you very much Ms. McBride and the World Affairs Council for inviting me today. Mr. Alsayegh I appreciate your kind introduction. Ms. Rubin, I have known you for far longer than either of us wish to remember. Your reporting and insightful coverage have contributed to a greater understanding of the Middle East. I hope that my remarks today will help to achieve this as well.
It is a privilege to come to Philadelphia, the birthplace and home to one of my favorite figures in American history – Benjamin Franklin. Of all the wonderful stories and historical anecdotes there are about Ben Franklin, it is most appropriate for today’s discussion to mention his leadership in the area of foreign affairs.
As you all know, he was America’s first Ambassador – to France – and successfully developed a strong friendship between the two countries. His diplomatic efforts led to America’s first formal alliance with a major superpower and established a strong blueprint for American diplomacy.
His success with the French was based on a few basic, but fundamental principles. First, he developed an open dialogue. Second, he always had the courage to firmly uphold the ideals of his nation. And finally, Mr. Franklin was creative in his approach to the challenges of the day.
These three principles are no different than the ones that have been used to build a strong friendship between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. For more than 60 years, our two nations have used these ideals to work together to tackle some of the world’s largest and difficult problems – from energy security to the Cold War.
Today, we face many difficult challenges that continue to challenge both of us – and they deal primarily with the Middle East. The region is faced with several conflicts – some of them lasting decades. Saudi Arabia has been working diligently to resolve all of them, and we continue to work with the U.S. to this end.
Briefly, I would like to address some of these issues. As it is clearly a topical matter – I would like to address Iran. Its nuclear ambitions are clearly a concern for the global community. We believe the entire Middle East should be a nuclear-free zone – including Israel. So, we speak directly with Iran on all issues. We find that talking with them is better than not talking with them.
Next, there is Iraq. With each passing day, Iraq falls deeper and deeper into bloodshed. More innocent civilians are caught up in escalating sectarian clashes each day. Saudi Arabia continues to work for a solution – which, we believe, will need to come from within Iraq. We have worked hard to try to bring stability to a nation that is struggling – and will continue to work for a peaceful and sovereign Iraq. The struggle in Iraq is political, not sectarian or ethnic. Pure political ambition is driving the fighting, and only a political solution will stop it. Efforts to engage all parties must be strengthened.
Our efforts in diplomacy have been coupled with an unyielding support for humanitarian relief and assistance to the Iraqi people. Throughout the conflict, the Kingdom has offered economic support. During meetings held at the United Nations, Saudi Arabia led the formation of several initiatives to support its neighbor. One of these initiatives was a recent pledge to extend one billion dollars towards the reconstruction of Iraq.
Moving on, ladies and gentleman, there is the problem of Lebanon. In recent years, the world witnessed a nation that was seemingly beyond reconstruction and was reemerging as a center for culture, commerce and tourism in the Middle East. However, the Israeli air strikes of this summer not only destroyed infrastructure, they also jeopardized the spirit of the Lebanese people. These events, along with a series of assassinations – beginning with late Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and more recently with cabinet minister Pierre Gemayel – have dealt a serious blow to the progress of a flourishing nation. The Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory, in Shaba'a Farms, drives Hizbollah's military resistance to Israel. Remove Israeli occupation, and the Lebanese will disarm Hizbollah.
Saudi Arabia has stood by the Lebanese government and continues to support the people of Lebanon in their struggle for peace and stability.
Ladies and Gentlemen: There is a tendency to compartmentalize and keep these issues separate. This is not the best approach. What is really needed is a holistic and comprehensive strategy that starts directly from the root of the problem. And that problem is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
After five decades, allowing this situation to continue is inhumane. Palestinians and Israelis are dying, and I fear that the more killing that is allowed to take place, the more hatred is bred on both sides, and the more difficult it becomes to establish peace. Our common enemies use this to fuel their extremism and we cannot allow this to continue.
Peace is no longer simply a regional necessity, but a global imperative. Unfortunately, every time we get close, our hopes are dashed. For 50 years, we’ve had ideas and proposals, resolutions and initiatives, and even full-blown accords. But never has there been an honest and just implementation, or enforcement, of these agreements.
Right now – even after the events of this summer – we have the Road Map – as outlined by President Bush – and the Abdullah Peace Plan. We need to finally bring these parties to the negotiating table. A lasting and just peace plan can only result from diplomatic negotiations. Israelis and Palestinians can begin to build confidence and trust in a process that takes into account the needs of both sides. Only when there is trust in the process, can there be trust in the implementation of the solution. Again, remove Israeli occupation of Palestine, and we can remove the arms that cause all the killing.
Saudi Arabia has been open about its willingness to take a lead in engaging on this issue. We believe it is time for the rest of the international community to join us, because no one nation can resolve this issue alone.
I am glad that Saudi Arabia and the United States can expand on our historic friendship, and work together to bring stability to a troubled, but important region. As I mentioned earlier, the diplomatic principles established for America by Benjamin Franklin, are the very foundations for the relationship between the Kingdom and the United States. They are certainly being employed today.
From the first visit by an American President to Saudi Arabia in 1945 – when Franklin Roosevelt met King Abdulaziz in the Red Sea – to the most recent visit to Saudi Arabia by Vice President Dick Cheney – we now serve as an example of what it means to have an open and honest relationship.
This reminds me of a story of Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, two great leaders and two great allies. Winston Churchill was a guest at the White House during the war years and President Roosevelt wanted to honor him by putting him up in the White House instead of Blair House. And one night, Mr. Roosevelt wheeled into Mr. Churchill’s room and found him stark naked. And so he tried to wheel back in embarrassment 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.”
Over a year ago, when I presented my diplomatic credentials to your Secretary of State, I told her this story. And while I assured her that I was not going to come to her naked on any occasion, I did convey that that is the kind of relationship we would like to have with the United States; an open one, one that’s full of dialogue and cooperation, and greater understanding.
Thank you very much ladies and gentleman.