MR. MUHANNAD HAIMOUR (Executive Director, American-Arab Chamber of Commerce): Good afternoon again. I hope you’re enjoying your meal. Welcome again.
His Royal Highness has requested that you please fill out response cards that are on your table and chamber staff will collect those after. If you could please take a moment to fill the response card, we will have a question-and-answer session at the end of our program, and if you could please fill out any questions that you may have at the cards on your table, we will collect those and answer the question.
We are going to do this again and welcome our chairman, Ahmad Chebbani.
MR. AHMAD CHEBBANI (Chairman, American-Arab Chamber of Commerce): Again, good afternoon. It is my pleasure to welcome and introduce His Royal Highness Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United States of America. A skilled diplomat, Prince Turki has a long history of maintaining good relationships between Washington and Riyadh. In 1973, Prince Turki was appointed an advisor to the Royal Court. From 1977 to 2001 he served as a Director General of the General Intelligence Directorate, the kingdom’s main foreign intelligence service.
In 2002, he was appointed Ambassador to the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd bin Abdulaziz. During his time, he successful served a difficult course as envoy to London in the period following after September 11, and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. In addition, it is diplomatic relationships. Prince Turki is known for his commitment – (inaudible) – excellence.
His Highness is one of the founders of the King Faisal Foundation and is a chairman of the King Faisal Center of Research and Islamic Studies, the group founded in 1983 to promote and expand the dialogue within Islam and between Islam and Christian and Jewish groups.
He is the chairman of the board of the Prince Charles Visual Islamic and Traditional Art Center, as well as the co-chair of the C100 Group which is affiliated with the World Economic Forum since 2003. Born in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, the Prince was educated at Princeton, Cambridge, and Georgetown. He is the brother of Foreign Minister [Prince Saud Al-Faisal] and son of the late King Faisal.
Please, my friends, join me in welcoming and honoring His Royal Highness Prince Turki Al-Faisal of Saudi.
HRH PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL (Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United States of America): Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Thank you.
(In Arabic.) Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. My friend, Ahmad Chebbani, thank you as well.
I appreciate the invitation by the American-Arab Chamber of Commerce and the Detroit and Dearborn Chambers of Commerce to speak here today. It is a pleasure to be here in Dearborn, where the largest Arab-American and Islamic populations are in the United States, although His Excellency Sher Kazwini (ph) tells me otherwise; that perhaps there are more in California, but that is between you guys to fix. (Laughter)
I am encouraged by the community you have built here, one that clearly provides so much support for Saudi-U.S. relations. Again, thank you. I am also encouraged by the presence of Saudi students in the audience. I see several tables filled by the distinctive headscarf – (in Arabic) – and I welcome them.
I am sure many of you have questions that you would like to ask, so I will keep my remarks brief and give you an overview of where Saudi Arabia is today.
Currently, relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States are strong. We have certainly had our ups and downs, but right now our government-to-government relations are better perhaps than they have been before. The leaders of our nations have clear common goals concerning the war on terrorism, issues facing the Middle East, and the global economy.
While there is always work to be done on this high level, such positive cooperation has provided me with the opportunity to focus on meeting with and engaging with the American people. During the last few months that is what I have been doing. I have been traveling throughout the United States talking with Americans. I have been listening to their questions and their concerns. And I have been working to address the perceptions and misperceptions that are out there about Saudi Arabia.
I am glad to say that I have been received warmly everywhere I have visited thus far, from Texas to Arizona, Massachusetts, Georgia, New York, and most recently California and Washington State. During these travels, I have also been talking with business and community leaders like you. Ladies and gentlemen, King Abdullah believes that fostering strong business ties between Saudi Arabia and the United States is critical to our relationship.
Long before an official alliance existed between our two countries and our two governments, some 70 years ago, it was the Saudi and American people who, with a handshake, launched business ventures, established partnerships, and formed friendships. Since then, our deepest relationships have grown from trade and commerce, and this has helped our nations when we have gone through rough times. Our common business interests support our common values and our common goals.
Currently, Saudi Arabia is taking major steps to promote greater trade and business between our nations for this very reason. As you know, the most significant step we have taken is joining the World Trade Organization last December. I can tell you all of the particulars of what we as a country have done to accomplish this, but the simple fact is when Saudi Arabia became a WTO member, it committed itself to a safe, secure, and transparent foreign trade environment.
We’ve also agreed to join several additional initiatives to lower tariffs and other trade barriers for telecommunication services, pharmaceuticals, civilian aircraft and parts, chemicals, and information technology. As the largest economy in the Middle East, and one of the fastest growing in the world, we have opened the doors to a great opportunity.
Saudi Arabia is growing, and we need the expertise of companies like these represented here today to make our country and economy stronger. Twenty years ago, we were still building the basic infrastructure to enable our country to operate – that is roads, schools, hospitals, et cetera. Today, we are building communications and observation satellites and launching them into space. Six of them, in fact, will be sent up this year. Our aim is high, and we hope new investment will connect us on entirely new levels to the world around us.
Today there are investment opportunities worth over $600 billion available in Saudi Arabia in the next 15 years in a number of fields, including expanding the natural gas industry, growing information technology, developing the mining and tourism sectors, and further privatizing state-owned corporations, including the airlines.
We are also making major investments in technology and economic infrastructure. Last December, we broke ground on the King Abdullah Economic City, a more than $26-billion mega-project on the Red Sea. The city will feature one of the largest deepwater ports in the world for freighters moving between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean. It will also contain a “financial island” that will be home to the assets and funds of the world’s biggest financial institutions including banks, investment houses, and insurance companies. You can think of it as a Manhattan on the Red Sea dedicated to finance, technology, and education.
This is an exciting time in the Kingdom, and the Saudi people are gearing up for these opportunities. You can see this in the performance of the Saudi stock market. Some say the economic up-turn is a result of oil prices, but I view our current performance as an affirmation of our citizens’ confidence in the system. Over time it will run through its cycle as it has in recent weeks, but we have laid prudent groundwork.
Our progress, ladies and gentlemen, is not a result of throwing money at our problems. We didn’t just make up a spending list. Ours have been systematic programs created to facilitate considerable investment opportunities for both overseas investors and the Saudi private sector. Many people understand this, and the market reflects it.
I extend to you an invitation to visit Saudi Arabia and see for yourselves the development that is taking place. Such visits have been made easier by recently enacted initiatives regarding business visa regulations. The new law allows owners, investors, board chairmen, and directors of foreign companies to obtain visas without invitation. And as you can see, the kingdom is making every effort to foster an environment friendly to business and to foreign participation.
I thank you for listening, ladies and gentlemen. And now, I would be glad to answer any questions you may have. Thank you.
MR. NASSER BEYDOUN (Vice-Chairman, American-Arab Chamber of Commerce): Excuse me, I’ll be moderating. Can everybody hear me? I would like to, before we take the question and answers, there is cards on your table. If you would please write down your questions and chamber staff will come by and pick them up, and we’ll start the – but before we start the question-and-answer, I would like to call Ms. Jill Murphy up to the stage who will be representing Governor Granholm.
MS. JILL MURPHY: Governor Granholm is so sorry that she is unable to greet you in person today. She asked me to convey her best wishes, her best wishes of all of Michigan, to give you a small token of our appreciation for Saudi Arabia’s friendship.
PRINCE TURKI: Thank you. Thank you very much.
MS. MURPHY: Thank you very much.
PRINCE TURKI: Thank you. And please convey my gratitude to the governor.
MS. MURPHY: Certainly.
PRINCE TURKI: Thank you.
MR. NASSER BEYDOUN: I would like to invite Mr. Joe Beydoun representing Mayor Michael Guido from the City of Dearborn.
MR. JOE BEYDOUN: I do have a brief comment, if I may, Your Royal Highness. On behalf of all of these people here and 100,000 people, and especially on behalf of Mayor Michael Guido who couldn’t be here with us today to a prior commitment would like to present you with the key to our city and to our hearts.
PRINCE TURKI: Thank you very much. Thank you. Please thank the mayor for me. Thank you, sir.
MR. NASSER BEYDOUN: Please fill out your question cards and staff will come by and pick them up and bring them up. But it’s the moderator’s prerogative to usually ask the first question.
And Your Royal Highness, my question is, several weeks ago, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt made comments questioning the patriotism of the Shiites in the Arab world. And I was wondering if you might address that issue as well as the sectarian violence that is happening in Iraq today.
PRINCE TURKI: Let me just start by saying that as I address the press reports of the president’s statements, he has continued to try to mitigate the initial impression that came out of those statements. And the last statement that he issued, he said that – explained that he had absolutely no doubt in the patriotism or the good will of the people of the Shia sect within the Arab world. That is as far as President Mubarak is concerned.
And, again, in the Kingdom of course we have a sizeable community of Shia brethren who live in the Kingdom and have historically. And they are equally of the opportunity that has been afforded to all Saudi citizens in developing the kingdom in various aspects. And as Sher Kazwini was telling me just before coming up here, he has received various calls from Saudi students who follow the Shia sect who have been sent on scholarship to your country here along with your federal Saudis, both male and female. So as far as the Kingdom is concerned, there is no issue of difference between Shia and – now, we are all Muslims.
The Muslim faith is an inclusive faith; it is not an exclusive faith. And that is how hopefully we will practice it everywhere, whether in Saudi Arabia or in Iran or in Iraq or in other places. There is no room today for sectarian difference, whether in our part of the world or anywhere else. I think we should all consider ourselves as human beings, and as such our responsibility to safeguard the planet that we live on, which has been entrusted to us by those like me who believe in God by God that we should take care of that issue and work together instead of separately.
MR. NASSER BEYDOUN: We have a question here: “What steps is the Kingdom taking to improve women’s rights in Saudi Arabia?”
PRINCE TURKI: I think there have been steps, and this gives me opportunity to mention a few of them. First of all, let us put it this way, Islam does not distinguish between men and women, either in the obligation that men and women have to God or in God’s munificence and beneficence towards men and women. They are equally obliged to him and equally responsive to his generosity and his benefits.
Social custom, whether in Saudi Arabia or in other countries impinges on these egalitarian view of religions in general and Islam in particular; and if I may remind my friends here in the audience that it took more than 150 years in your experience as a country before women finally had the right to vote. And as I understand it even today, in terms of equal pay there is a big discussion going on between men and women on that.
We are a very relatively young country in Saudi Arabia. Our aspirations are great and our ambitions are boundless to achieve the kind of equality not just for men and women but even for all members of the society in the direction and the rule of Islam. And so if there are lacks in our practice as human beings, not just to women but to whoever it is that may be involved in that, that is due to our human nature rather than to the aspirations and ideal that we believe in.
In terms of education, women now outnumber men in college graduates in Saudi Arabia, and we have a student population from pre-school to the university of nearly 5.-some million students. In terms of accomplishment in academic standards, women far out-perform their male counterparts in the Kingdom. All job opportunities are open to women in any field. And the most prized woman in Saudi Arabia today is a woman with a job because she brings an income to the family, her siblings look up to her as a model, and equally importantly, she is sought after by suitors who would like to marry her because she has a job. (Laughter.)
And this has not always been the case in Saudi Arabia. Twenty years ago, for example, the head of a household in Saudi Arabia, usually a man, would have thought that it was shameful for him to allow his wife or his daughter or his sister to go out and seek a job. And this was not just in Saudi Arabia. I think in many parts of the world, this was the – (inaudible).
But today, because of social and economic changes, women with a job have become much more common and are much more freer to do that. And that has taken place, ladies and gentlemen, not because of any religious fatwa or because of any government decree but from within the society itself. And that is how we would like to pursue our progress and our evolution in Saudi Arabia, that it must come from within the society.
There have been experiments in other countries where social customs and modes and regulations have been imposed from the top, generally with very terrible results: disruptions in society, in some cases revolutions, in other cases continued disharmony and social fracture. We want the development in the Kingdom to occur from within and to be acceptable to all sides. Have we achieved our ultimate goals in that aspect? No, we haven’t. We have some way to go. But I think we are heading in the right direction. And I think our women also have a responsibility in that, that they must take the bull by the horn, as it were, and carry this responsibility themselves. And more and more we are seeing Saudi women coming forward and challenging the social customs that have kept them behind.
And let’s face it, ladies and gentleman, women everywhere have had a bad lot, not just in Saudi Arabia. And men in general, including myself, must admit that they have a misogynistic bit of their makeup that makes them in many cases try to keep down women. But you can bet your life that the Saudi women are coming to the fore and, Saudi women, beware of that. (Laughter, applause.)
MR. NASSER BEYDOUN: Your Royal Highness, you described Iraq in an article as a mess. If you were advising the president today on what the U.S. should do in Iraq or how can we – or what the Arab countries should do or what the Iraqis should do, what would your comments be on that?
PRINCE TURKI: First of all, it’s not just me who is saying that. (Laughter.) And we are hearing that from Iraqis themselves. Those who are living in Iraq are complaining about the situation. Secondly, I would not presume to advise the president on what to do. He is in a much better place to figure out what is best for your country.
I will tell you what we are doing in cooperation with the United States. Since the toppling of Saddam Hussein, Saudi Arabia has come forward with an aid program for the Iraqi people, whether it was in hospital services or in financial support, or in other political and social developments. Because of the lack of security in Iraq, our humanitarian efforts in Iraq have been curtailed. We can’t send our people in Iraq for fear of their being kidnapped of ransomed or get into trouble, so that part of our support has been put back in abeyance.
But on other issues, we have been politically active in trying to promote among all Iraqi factions the need for them to stick together, and to think of themselves first as Iraqis and second as Shi’as and Kurds, Turkmen, or whatever. Those of you here who are from Iraqi origin I think can know better than I do that in terms of sectarian differences that they cut across all lines in Iraq. You have families with Shia fathers and Sunni mothers and mixed offspring. You have whole tribal configurations with one part of the tribe being Shia and the other part being Sunni. Even among the Kurds you have Shi’a and Sunni. And in other parts of Iraq, the issue of sectarian interaction is more in the practice that the issue of sectarian difference and separation.
So what we have been urging on Iraqi politicians is that they must come together and put their house in order. Last November in Cairo, in the Arab League headquarters, a meeting took place between all of the Iraqi factions: Sunni, Shia, Kurd, Turkmen, Christians, Jews, you name it; they were represented there. And it was at the instigation of Saudi Arabia that they came together and achieved for the first time since the toppling of Saddam Hussein a consensus on where they wanted to go.
Following from that step the elections for a parliament took place last December, and we and you and others, including the Iraqis, and importantly the Iraqis have definitely chosen a parliament that one can call legitimate and representative of the Iraqi people because all factions participated, and more than 70 percent of the Iraqi electorate actually voted in that election. So you have a legislative body in Iraq that is truly legitimate and representative. And now it is up to the politicians that all sides in Iraq to come together and form the truly legitimate and representative government from this parliament. And they have to realize that the political haggling and bickering and give and take may be acceptable in more normal circumstances where it would be part and parcel of forming a government in any country.
But in Iraq because of the lack of security and because of the lawlessness and because of the insurgency that has taken place and because of the terrorism that takes place there, it is vitally important on these political leaders to get over their differences and come together. And we have been encouraging them to do that.
MR. NASSER BEYDOUN: Thank you. As we continue, I just want everybody to please fill out your response forms. His Royal Highness does actually read these. So fill them out and we will collect them after the question and answer.
PRINCE TURKI: Not only do we read them in the embassy but also we try to answer them.
MR. NASSER BEYDOUN: One of the several questions pertain to Iran, its nuclear development, its consequences on the region, and U.S. actions that might – that the U.S. might take pertaining to Iran’s nuclear program.
PRINCE TURKI: Our position on that issue is that the Middle East should be rid of all weapons of mass destruction, not just nuclear. You have chemical and biological. (Applause.) And we have been calling that for the last 20 years or so. We have been telling our Iranian neighbors to join us in that call instead of going towards development – if they are going towards development of nuclear weapons. We think that there should be a level playing field in that area in the Middle East. You cannot ask one country not to go that route and allow another country to do that and – (applause) – store nuclear weapons.
So our position is that the whole area should be rid of these weapons of mass destruction. We are concerned of course about any potential for military conflict. King Abdullah has declared many times in public speeches and in interviews and even in meetings with leaders of countries that war destroys; military conflict destroys; and there has been enough destruction and hardship in our part of the world without adding to it, whether it is in Iran or in Iraq or in Palestine or wherever it may be.
MR. NASSER BEYDOUN: Thank you. We would turn our attention a little bit to the Palestinian situation. As you are aware, the U.S. government pushed for democracy in the region, and the Palestinians had one of the freest elected democracies in the Arab world. Yet according to many in our government they chose the wrong leader. Can you address that issue on the Hamas government, the peace process and the U.S. response to working with Hamas and what we see right now as an effort to undermine a legitimately elected government?
PRINCE TURKI: The Kingdom has taken the position in public that the elections in Palestine, as you said, are legitimate and free, and the results of the elections should be accepted by everybody. But we have also called on the leadership in Palestine, including Hamas, to adhere to the commitments of the Palestinian Authority.
The elections that took place took place within the framework of the establishment of the Palestinian authority, and hence for any government to come and deny Palestinian Authority commitments, that would be going against the very process of election with that framework and the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority would be undermined. So this is what we have called on Hamas to do.
We are going to continue supporting the Palestinian people without any hesitation and without any infringements or any lackings. There are various methods to do that and we have been doing them from the very beginning when the Palestinian Authority was established. We do not support any specific party or group. In the past we did not support FATAH nor are we now going to support Hamas.
What we are going to do is continue to give our aid to the Palestinian Authority through the various mechanisms and means that have been in existence since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, including the United Nations special fund for Palestine, the Arab League Fund for Palestine, the World Bank Fund for Palestine, the IMF fund for Palestine, the Red Cross/Red Crescent support for Palestine.
All of these international organizations have been contributing to the welfare of the Palestinian people and we are going to do them. And as you said, Johnny (?), it is not right to deny the Palestinians their conclusion that this is the leadership that they want. I think our part of the world requires more talk and engagement with each other rather than less. So this is what we call upon all of our friends to do in Palestine.
MR. NASSER BEYDOUN: Thank you. I am going to ask the last question, but before I do that, I would like to just once again to remind everybody to fill these out. And too, I would like all of the students to stand up and be recognized and thank them for coming. All of the students from Wayne State, Oakland University – (applause). Thank you.
And one more item, would you please after the last question stay seated until His Royal Highness and the people who accompany him leave the ballroom, we would appreciate it.
The last question – you know, there are so many problems in the Arab world and in the Middle East, Your Royal Highness, and the last but not least is Lebanon. Saudi Arabia has been actively engaged in trying to resolve the diplomatic crisis in that troubled country and also tried to bring – find a solution to the relationship with Syria and also advancing the International Tribunal for the assassination of – the martyr, Rafic Hariri. Could you please give us your take on Lebanon, where it is today, and what you see the future for Lebanon?
PRINCE TURKI: I have had the privilege before coming yesterday to Dearborn to visit with the Lebanese prime minister who was in Washington. And I can tell you and repeat to you what he said to me. He said that Lebanon seeks to have the best of relations with her neighbor Syria, and that there is absolutely no intention on the part of Lebanon, either to undermine or to bring harm to her sister country in Syria. And therefore, that is what we are encouraging from Saudi Arabia.
We believe that the negotiations that are taking place within Lebanon now between Lebanese factions on what future Lebanon will be like is what is required. As I told you before, talk is what is more required now rather than conflict. And we think all factions in Lebanon now are participating in this effort to bring Lebanon out of its problem.
We are continuing to support United Nations efforts to reach a conclusion and a closure to the case of the martyrdom of Rafic Hariri. We think those responsible should be brought to justice no matter who they are. And we are continuing to support the United Nations in that effort.
Our relationship with Syria is above all and we have nothing to hide there. We think Syria is a sister country that must be kept within the Arab fold and we’ll continually talk to them about how we view the situation in Lebanon. We have continued to support the Lebanese position that the application of the United Nations resolution, vis-à-vis Lebanon should be adhered to by all parties, and that is something for the Lebanese people to keep in mind and for all of Lebanon’s neighbors to keep in mind. So this is where we stand on Lebanon.
If we are asked by the Lebanese people to engage and support and enter into any set of equations that will help the Lebanese get out of their problem, we will not hesitate to do that. And as you know, we played a very important role in bringing the Lebanese leadership together in – (inaudible) – nearly 16 or 17 years ago that brought together the end of the civil war. So we were continuing to play whatever role the Lebanese want of us.
MR. NASSER BEYDOUN: Your Royal Highness, thank you very much for joining us in Dearborn today.
PRINCE TURKI: Thank you.
MR. NASSER BEYDOUN: We are honored to have you.
PRINCE TURKI: Thank you.
MR. NASSER BEYDOUN: And thank you, everyone, for joining us too.
PRINCE TURKI: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. It’s very good to be here. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
MR. NASSER BEYDOUN: You know, ladies and gentleman – oh, they took it off already. I don’t mind.
(Confers off side.)
MR. NASSER BEYDOUN: If we can ask you to please remain seated for just a moment --