Ladies and Gentlemen: Thank you for joining me today.
I am glad to be here at Thunderbird, continuing what is a bit of a tradition. My predecessor as Ambassador was last here in September of 2003, and I am glad to be keeping up our relations. This school provides critical education concerning international issues and is very well represented in the world community.
It is also a pleasure to be in Phoenix after a 43-year hiatus. The last time I was here I spent two weeks in the home of one of your citizens, Oliver Cunningham. His son Fred and I were classmates at a boarding school in the East. And Fred invited me to spend the spring holiday at his home.
Why do people come to Arizona? They go to the Grand Canyon, and sure enough, Fred, Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham and I drove to the Grand Canyon to spend the day. Foolishly, I allowed my pride to get the better of me and accepted my friend Fred’s suggestion that we walk to the first station on the way to the bottom of the canyon. What a friend!
It took us one hour to walk down to the first station and it took me the rest of the day to walk back up. I won’t describe how my feet looked when I finally thrust myself up that last step. It is an experience that shall remain unrepeated.
Coming from the Arabian Peninsula, this is certainly a familiar environment. I actually think people from Arizona are among the few in the world who can visit the Kingdom in August and say, “I think it is cooler here than at home.”
I’m first going to make some brief remarks and then leave time for questions.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I hardly need to explain to you the importance oil plays in the Saudi/US relationship. As the world’s largest producer and exporter and the world’s largest consumer and importer of oil, Saudi Arabia and the US have a natural partnership.
Our cooperation in these matters has always been strong, and has matured greatly over the last decade. But it has become apparent in these days of rising global demand that more needs to be done to improve communications between producers and consumers.
I do not think we can now deny the fact that any nation’s actions, well beyond those that affect the supply of oil, also have an impact on people around the world. We live in a global community in which the future of our neighbors is as important as our own.
Certainly, the health of the global economy is crucial to all of our lives, and Saudi Arabia understands the important role it plays in the world and is committed to advancing peace and economic prosperity.
On December 15, the Kingdom officially became the World Trade Organization’s 149th member. This step was taken to integrate our nation fully into the world economy, and thereby ensure the well-being of our people.
Accession to the WTO is the culmination of more than a decade of hard work. The Kingdom has liberalized its trade regime and put in place a transparent and predictable environment for trade and foreign investment.
WTO membership will allow more Saudi products and investments in the global marketplace. It will also encourage more international products and investments to come to the Kingdom. Currently, the US is the Kingdom’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade rising from $160 million in 1970 to over $26 billion in 2004.
Ladies and Gentlemen: I look around Phoenix and see a great deal of new growth and new development. Perhaps more than anyone else, the Saudis understand that if you water the desert, it will bloom. At heart, we are a trading nation. Our ancestors plied the ancient trading routes of the Arabian Peninsula. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was a trader who worked the caravan route between Damascus and Makkah, and in the employment of a businesswoman, no less; the blessed Khadija bint Khuwelid.
Today, our businessmen are part and parcel of the global trading system, and our companies can be found operating around the globe, including in Arizona. As our history with the state of Arizona proves, people who share the same outlook towards business and commerce should have no difficulty finding opportunities that benefit both sides.
The Saudi people have a lot to offer the world community. Through improved education and exposure to the world at large, we hope to facilitate continued, mutually beneficial international relations.
Increased international trade offers another great opportunity: to be able to combat the poverty and destitution throughout the world, which is commensurate with the Islamic tradition of outreach and charity.
The Kingdom has been blessed with great resources, which are being used for the betterment of the world community. “Your neighbor, your neighbor, then your neighbor,” goes a common Arabic saying.
As part of our responsibilities, Saudi Arabia has contributed billions of dollars to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Pakistan, the tsunami in Indonesia and in other parts of the world where aid is needed. In fact, as a percentage of GDP, Saudi Arabia is one of the largest donors of aid in the world. And recently, Saudi Arabia has joined with other major nations to set up a financial relief center so we can be better equipped to deal with future disasters wherever they may occur.
As you may be aware, 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. Each year, tens of millions of Muslims come from all over the world for spiritual rejuvenation and fulfillment of their religious duty – as they did just last month. Accordingly, Saudi Arabia shoulders a responsibility of influence and moral leadership.
Indeed, it is a unique position to be in. Just as the US holds a unique and influential position in the world today.
The United States is the only global superpower, and this imposes responsibilities and obligations upon it. But there is also a moral dimension to being the world’s sole superpower: respect for law and compassion for the oppressed.
Thus in spite of their admittedly disproportionate capabilities, our respective countries enjoy a position of influence that is complementary to that of the other. Complementary not only in that we share influence, but in that we stand for the same ideals. Despite some of our cultural differences, we have always shared the same basic belief in faith, family and the importance of honest and open communication. And these common attributes have served us well in tackling challenges throughout the world during the last 60 years.
Today, cooperation between the US and Saudi Arabia is greater than ever and has culminated in the establishment of a new way for our countries to work together and to ensure our interests are aligned: the Saudi/US Strategic Dialogue.
The Dialogue was conceived by King Abdullah and President Bush when they met in Crawford last April. They formed this Dialogue as a way to reintroduce cooperation between our countries – the type of cooperation we have known from the day President Franklin Roosevelt first met with the founder of the modern Saudi state King Abdulaziz back in 1945. The Dialogue is intended to institutionalize relations and deepen coordination on strategic and political issues.
The Saudi Foreign Minister and US Secretary of State met last November to commence the first session. The Strategic Dialogue will meet every six months, alternating between the Kingdom and the US. Senior officials from a number of departments and ministries from both countries will participate. Six initial working groups have been created: Energy; Economic and Financial Affairs; Consular Affairs; Partnership, Education and Human Development in the US and Saudi Arabia; Military Affairs; and Counterterrorism.
The Strategic Dialogue helps us in many ways, including keeping our countries at the forefront of combating our most common threat: terrorism. Terrorism, ladies and gentlemen, is unjustifiable under any circumstance. The taking of innocent lives contradicts the principles of all the revealed religions, as well as all universal values.
Saudi Arabia currently operates two joint task forces with the US to combat terrorism and terror financing. These task forces have been effective in achieving their missions, and have become a model for how nations can work together to defeat this evil.
By working together, we can, and we will, defeat terrorism.
I must mention also the fact both Saudi Arabia and the US are working hard to reach equitable, fair and peaceful settlements for the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.
In Iraq, we have promoted the effort of national reconciliation between all Iraqi factions, and continue to provide humanitarian, financial, and medical aid to the Iraqi people.
In Afghanistan, we are working closely with President Karzai to strengthen the central government and to rid Afghanistan of those elements that are still disrupting the social harmony of the Afghan people.
In Palestine, King Abdullah proposed in 2002 a peace plan, to which all Arab countries, including the Palestinian Authority, have committed themselves, and which was the first call for a two-state solution for the Palestinians and the Israelis.
By working together, we can and we will help the people of these nations achieve a peaceful and secure life for themselves and for their children.
Ladies and Gentlemen: It is a characteristic of the Saudi people to be deliberate and careful in our actions. Our Bedouin heritage dictates that our plans should be studied and meaningful, as there is little room for rash behavior in the desert. We have learned, over the centuries, that in order to survive in the desert, we must be able to differentiate between a mirage and the real thing.
Winston Churchill is said to have once told his driver: “Slow down, I’m in a rush.” He must have been a Bedouin at heart. Our society operates in a similar way, and the pursuit of lasting change needs to be as considerate of tradition as it is of the future. It must be deliberate to be real.
Last month, the Mayor of Riyadh Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Miqren chaired the first meeting of the Municipal Council of the City of Riyadh. This is the first of the 178 municipal councils throughout the Kingdom to which members were elected last spring.
Formation of these councils and the corresponding elections represent an important step in the Kingdom’s ongoing effort to promote greater participation by Saudi citizens in the decision-making process.
Indeed, even more recently, Saudi citizen Nadia Bakhurji won a seat on the new ten-member board of the newly formed Saudi Engineers Council. She hopes to increase the membership and visibility of women, and to create a database of all female engineers, designers and architects.
Women now have also been elected onto the boards of other professional organizations, including the Saudi Journalists’ Association and the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry. These women, who have the support of their peers and communities, are reaching new levels; each year, we witness an increasing number of female graduates from Saudi schools and colleges – and that number has been consistently greater than the number of male graduates.
These are universally positive developments. And we look forward to building on them and generating more.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Thank you for taking the time to be here, I imagine your curiosity about Saudi Arabia is great, as there are a lot of new developments. So, I would be glad to answer any questions you may have. Again, thank you.