Ladies and Gentlemen: thank you for joining me today. And thank you Dr. Alpert for the invitation to speak here this afternoon. I am sure many of you have questions, so I will be sure to keep my remarks brief.
Today, I was asked to speak about leadership, and to discuss what type of leadership roles Saudi Arabia is taking in the world today. I can assure you, ladies and gentlemen, there are many.
As you may know, Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam, one of the world’s three monotheistic religions, and the site of Islam’s two Holy Mosques. Five times a day, more than one billion Muslims turn in the direction of Makkah in prayer. And each year, millions of Muslims come to Makkah from all over the world to fulfill their religious duty. Accordingly, Saudi Arabia shoulders a responsibility of moral leadership.
The Kingdom also possesses the world’s largest proven oil reserves. This is a critical resource to the world today. So we must act as a responsible leader in the energy markets.
Saudi Arabia also has the largest economy in the Middle East. So, in many ways, it needs to lead the way in helping to foster economic growth and stability in the region.
And, perhaps most importantly, the Kingdom is a leader in the war on terrorism. We are a prime target of terrorists, and we have made it our priority to help eradicate the men, the money, and mindset that supports terror, in not only our country, but in the world.
The issues we face today are very complex. So, I believe, that when we talk about leadership, it is not really about one person or one nation directing others. In truth, leadership is about bringing many people and nations together. It is about the type of cooperation we can secure among many parties. This way we can all contribute to solving the problems that affect us all in this global community.
And there are so many issues that need resolution – political, economic, and social.
There’s the issue of political security. Political strife exists in so many places around the world – Darfur, Sierra Leone, the Balkans, East Timor, and in many places in the Middle East. As we all know too well, the stability or security of a nation or people far away can impact us all significantly at home. We need to encourage peace and tolerance.
Last week, I was at the Woodrow Wilson Center here in Washington. I spoke about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This is a dispute that, whether it seems so or not, affects us all. We cannot ignore that it is one of the root causes of radical anti-American sentiment in the Arab and Islamic worlds, on which terror organizations like Al-Qaeda thrive.
And so it has moved from a regional desire to a global necessity to promote a peaceful resolution to this dispute.
For its part, Saudi Arabia has taken steps to help find a resolution. King Abdullah put forth a peace plan in 2002, which was adopted by the Arab World. For total Israeli withdrawal from all the occupied Arab territories, including East Jerusalem, Israel will get total peace, including diplomatic recognition, an end to hostilities, and total normalization of relations withal Arab countries. This was a major step. But it cannot be implemented by any single party. Other nations of the world, including, and especially, the United States, need to help lead the way.
In addition to the political issues in the world, there are economic issues. Whether it is the European economy, the Asian economy, or even the economy of any of your hometowns, our livelihoods are linked. A drop in any one market can ripple across the others.
Countries like Saudi Arabia and the US are fortunate to have the ability to ride out fluctuations. But there is a great deal of poverty and destitution in the world that is reinforced by global downturns. And the welfare of the people of the poorer nations of the world needs to be recognized. It has the potential to be a breeding ground for anger, frustration, and misplaced blame.
Saudi Arabia, for one, intends to use its recently attained position in the World Trade Organization to help developing nations build stable economic growth. To this end, the Kingdom continues also to work with UN agencies in impoverished places throughout the globe. In fact, as a percentage of GDP, Saudi Arabia is one of the largest donors of humanitarian aid in the world.
The last issue that I will mention is the key issue to help us resolve all issues. And it is the issue of understanding. Working towards understanding is something each and every one of us must do. We need to celebrate the great common traditions and the diversity of our civilizations. We need to work to understand each other better.
If we do not, we will only be compounding all of our other problems.
Saudi Arabia, its culture, and people, face a great deal of misunderstanding in the world. And we are working to fix this. The Kingdom has undertaken a scholarship program to send our students to study abroad and become exposed to new ways of life and to help educate others about Saudi culture.
As an individual, I have been traveling throughout the United States, speaking to Americans, listening to their questions and concerns, and providing answers. I have been greeted warmly and openly. And I have even offered to everyone I meet an invitation to visit Saudi Arabia. I offer this to you all as well. That way, you can come to know our country as many of my countrymen have come to know and appreciate America.
It has never been more important than it is today to find vehicles for effective cross-cultural communication. We must find ways for the people of the world to learn about each other, respect each other, work and live together for the social, economic, and peaceful development of all. Because, as King Abdullah has said: “In this age there is no room for glory without strength and no strength without unity.”
And in seeking a unified, prosperous, and secure world, we all need to be a leader.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you. I will now be happy to take any questions you may have. Again, thank you.