Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen. Welcome to Riyadh.
In this second conference for the two Kingdoms’ friendship and partnership, I have the personal pleasure to greet Your Excellency and to share a place with you on this podium... Seeing the familiar face of someone I am fortunate to consider as a friend always gives me a most needed sense of calm in an ever-changing world of crisis and turmoil. I always appreciate your astute insight and acknowledged wisdom.
During the first session of this important and continuing dialogue which took place in London last year, I had stressed the value of the relations between our two countries and thought that the two Kingdoms were uniquely positioned to cooperate and play an effective role in dealing with major global issues facing us today. I specifically referred to certain religious, geographic, economic, and cultural factors enabling the two Kingdoms to acquire a certain position of influence – and notwithstanding the existence of a healthy difference and diversity – we can utilize these unique positions in a complementary manner that allows both of us to be more effective in our endeavors.
It seems appropriate that in this current session, we should pause to reflect, evaluate, and reinforce what has been achieved during this past year.
A word of caution must be introduced here. The objectives of our cooperation and partnership must not be viewed from a point of view of a corporate framework, where bottom-line results are expected almost immediately at the end of each fiscal year. It is in the nature of our endeavor that it acquires a life of its own, gathering momentum with time and achieving the sought results. As the Arabic saying goes: “The beginning of a deluge is a drop of rain.”
Having that in mind, I am pleased to report that Saudi Arabia is still the largest trading partner of the United Kingdom. In 2004, Saudi imports from the UK were 9.5 billion riyals while it had increased to 10.4 billion in 2005. Volume of trades between our two countries in the last three years went from 10 billion riyals in 2002 to 18 billion riyals in 2005. UK capital invested in major projects in Saudi Arabia is estimated at 4 billion Saudi riyals. This economic core interest is continuing and hopefully, as a result of this session, will continue to expand.
Perhaps it is timely to consider seriously the establishment of an investment holding company between our two Kingdoms. This company would have an agreed upon capital and can be formed by the private sector of both countries. If needed, government participation on both sides can also be considered. I am hopeful that the discussion groups of this session will give serious attention to this proposal to ascertain its range and feasibility.
Culturally, during last year, there have been many successful exchanges in the form of various exhibits, and the number of students from Saudi Arabia seeking further education in the United Kingdom is increasing annually. Surprising as it may seem to some members of the press present today, it is still a curious continuing phenomenon that many British nationals do enjoy living in Saudi Arabia. They are of course most welcome and we enjoy having them among us.
I take this opportunity to express our appreciation of the efforts by the British Government to facilitate these exchanges and streamline the visa procedures. I also wish to thank a person who continues to have a positive effect on this regard; he is Her Majesty’s ambassador to Riyadh Sir Sherard, better known here as Abu Henry.
I believe that during the past year, through intensive and candid consultations among us, and in the case of Saudi Arabia within the Islamic Conference and the Arab Summit, the two Kingdoms have clarified and crystallized their thinking and approaches to various global and regional political issues.
We are full partners, with other nations, in the war against terrorism. All point to the fact that we are winning that war. I hope with the help of Almighty God that we shall be able to eradicate completely this pestilence of terror in the near future, so that we are able to look back and recognize it as an aberration which hopefully shall never be repeated. Saudi Arabia is looking forward to the United Kingdom support for its proposal to establish an international counter terrorism center under the auspices of the United Nations.
On issues relating specifically to the Middle East, the views of our two countries in support of peace, stability and prosperity have a lot in common.
It is clear to my government that the adoption of the Arab-League Peace Plan represents the only concrete plan that can offer an end to the longest conflict in modern history. We hope that both the Palestinian and the Israeli governments will endorse this plan, and take all the necessary steps to implement it forthwith.
The Saudi Arabian government believes that withholding economic aid from the democratically elected Palestinian government will only compound the misery and suffering of the Palestinian people, who are already living at subsistence level. This in turn would lead to further despair, extremism and violence. To have a positive effect on any individual or group logic dictates that continuous dialogue and engagement is the only sure way, rather than exclusion and isolation.
It must be clear by now to the Israeli Government that unilateral solutions are doomed and they will only aggravate the crisis. It is counter productive to try and break the will of a valiant people and employ collective punishment measures in order to force submissiveness. Such measures galvanize and add resolve and defiance to the will of the people. The resolve and steadfastness of the gallant British people during the Second World War when subjected to daily civilian bombardment by the Nazi regime is a case of point.
It is the belief of both our two countries that the suffering of the Iraqi people must come to an end, and that the formation of a strong and unified government representing all sectors of the Iraqi people is the only way to assure a unified and prosperous Iraq, avoid a sectarian civil war, and pave the way to ultimately end the presence of foreign troops on Iraqi soil. It is in this spirit that the Arab League encourages a continuation of the comprehensive national dialogue among all Iraqis, the first round of which was held in Cairo, and we hope that the second round will be held in Baghdad soon.
Our two Kingdoms are in full agreement that the volatile region of the Middle East must be free of all weapons of mass destruction. If the international community is attempting to convince Iran not to develop nuclear arms, this should apply to Israel as well. I am always surprised that when Israel stockpile of nuclear weapons is mentioned, the international community opts to remain silent and seeks to shroud the fact with an obscure blackout.
I believe further that we are in agreement as to the right of any nation to seek nuclear technology for civilian use under customary international supervision. Under all circumstances, we believe in this country that the present crisis should be resolved through peaceful negotiations.
Our agreement on these issues is important. What we need to do now is to convince others that these are rational practical solutions, and urge the international community to adopt and implement this approach. We must not pretend that we solve the issues by merely meeting and discussing them. We must work hard to devise a mechanism to bring our deliberations to reality.
I conclude by thanking the government of the United Kingdom for their valuable assistance in making it possible for Saudi Arabia to join the World Trade Organization, during their tenure at the presidency of the European Union last year. I also wish all the participants in this conference luck and success. And my special thanks to the Honorable Jack Straw for his presence today.