Good afternoon. Thank you for the kind introduction. I truly appreciate the invitation to be here today by Lonnie and Muhammad Ali. The mission of your organization is admirable and one that I support greatly. You have a wonderful staff and many dedicated sponsors. Michael Fox, thank you for attending. And I appreciate all of you being here today.
I would also like to thank Mayor Abramson for being here and for his remarks. And Mr. Omar Ayyash, thank you for helping to arrange today’s events.
Ladies and gentlemen, I expect you have many questions for me, so I will be sure to keep my remarks brief.
This is actually my second time here in Louisville. I was here on the first Saturday in May to observe the most exciting two minutes in sports. It was thrilling to watch Barbaro win this year. I was only saddened to hear of the outcome of the Preakness Stakes. I am encouraged though by reports that he is recovering and in good condition following surgery.
As I’m sure all of you know, in Saudi Arabia, we are equally enamored with horses. The founder of the modern Saudi state, King Abdulaziz, owned a famous stable, as do many of his descendants today. The Arabian horse is cherished in the Kingdom, and throughout the world. In fact, to protect this breed, for decades now, Saudi Arabia has been participating in a national program to safeguard the Arabian horse’s breeding and unique characteristics.
I think we can all agree that it is important to protect what serves us well – whether it is horses or relationships. This is a common characteristic among Americans and Saudis.
I think today, Saudi Arabia and the US are doing a lot to maintain relations between our governments and our people. Certainly, we’ve gone through ups and downs. We’ve gone through difficult periods and easy periods, and I think it will continue to be this way. But this is the nature of any relationship, whether between friends or between countries. Ultimately, we always return to seeing the real reason why we stick it out with one another: Quite simply, we work well together.
For more than 60 years we’ve had a mutually beneficial relationship, and I can say – and I think proudly say – that it is a relationship not just of oil for security but, more broadly speaking, a relationship of people to people.
I for one first came to the United States when I was 14 years old to attend high school. After that I attended college here. I have had a great deal of exposure to the US and the American way of life. And this is not unique to me. Over the years, literally hundreds of thousands of Saudis have traveled to the United States seeking education or healthcare, to conduct business, or simply to visit.
The friendships and partnerships that have formed since well before our governments had official relations are lasting, because – at the bottom of it – Saudis and Americans are very similar to each other. We’re plainspoken and straightforward, and we both believe in the importance of faith and family. We want the same things for us and for our children that you do: security, opportunity, good health and education, and a bright future.
We know that this can be a challenging proposition for any nation to live up to, so in Saudi Arabia we have been diligently working for years now to modernize and to confront head-on the problems that exist within our society.
If you look at the Kingdom today, it is a country that is moving forward at great speed economically and socially, and even politically – despite what some might say.
We have over $650 billion worth of investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia over the next 15 years, and American business should take advantage of that. In December we officially joined the World Trade Organization. This is providing us with great opportunities to increase foreign investment and to diversify our economy so it will be not so reliant on oil.
We have also undertaken a strategic multi-year program to improve the level of education in the Kingdom to be competitive internationally, and this program is emphasizing critical thinking and math and science, which are important to success in the global economy.
Our municipal councils have now all officially formed and have begun to meet. Members of these councils were elected to office last spring. This is an important step as the Saudi people learn how the electoral process works, and we will continue to expand citizen participation.
These developments, which are only a few of many, are not just for the Saudi people. We live in a global community, so if we are to benefit ourselves, we are benefiting those in the world with whom we interact. And we interact with the US in particular a great deal. We cooperate with each other to redefine our relationship as world events evolve. As ambassador to your great country, I am privileged to contribute to developing this relationship.
As I was preparing to leave for my new assignment, I asked King Abdullah how should I deal with President Bush and the American people? He turned to me without batting an eye, and he said : “Just be frank with them.”
I am reminded of when I presented Secretary of State Rice with a copy of my credentials last September. I told her the story of Winston Churchill being a guest at the White House 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, he tried to wheel back out 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.” And I did assure the 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.
And with that, I will be glad to take any questions you may have.