Thank you, Father Pilarz, for the kind introduction. Both of us share common roots at Georgetown University – a place where I was a student, and you were a professor, prior to coming here. We also have shared time together during your tour of the Kingdom. We must do that again. I’m glad to see this school under such strong leadership, and I thank you for the opportunity to be with you today.
I always find it rewarding to share remarks at colleges and universities. They offer an opportunity for a free exchange of ideas, and a campus always seems alive with the energy of those who wish to make contributions to the world. Today, and in our world, there are plenty of opportunities for all of us to contribute.
I want to talk specifically about the potential for contributions in the Middle East, an area that unfortunately has its share of problems.
It concerns me that so many of Saudi Arabia’s neighbors are struggling to find peace and stability. Terrorism continues to plague us all. Al Qaeda and its offshoots take advantage of the political turmoil to advance their agenda and ethos. We have worked with your government and other allies to bring them to heel. By taking a global approach, that includes police action, financial tracking and religious challenges to them, we can definitely defeat the terrorists.
In Lebanon, the threat of greater instability increased with the assassination of cabinet minister Pierre Gemayel. In Palestine, the Israeli occupation continues to humiliate the Palestinians and deny them their inalienable rights to an identity and a country. Iran’s nuclear program continues to create concern for the world. And we all know of the daily turmoil and suffering of the Iraqi people.
When looking at these situations – many of them lasting years, even decades – we can only ask ourselves: where can we find hope?
Robert Kennedy once said: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.”
For decades, Saudi Arabia has worked to fulfill this mission. The Kingdom, in fact, has been a leading voice of peace and stability in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia wants to see the full potential of this beautiful region realized. There is no reason why the Middle East can not flourish into a vibrant and prosperous region, as it once was.
To see this accomplished, and to witness a lasting peace, we must take a comprehensive and coordinated approach.
With regard to Iran, Saudi Arabia has consistently engaged them in an open discourse. Our experience has been that talking with the Iranians is better than not talking with them.
In Lebanon, we see a nation that was just coming out from underneath the devastation of over twenty years of civil war. Assassinations of important leaders such as Rafiq Hariri and Pierre Gemayel serve to undermine the spirit of the Lebanese people. Unjust bombardments, such as Israel’s unlawful incursion last summer, destroy the infrastructure and progress that has been made.
So as a way to help, the Kingdom continues to support the ideals of the Lebanese people. We have donated aid in the amount of $250 million to help Lebanon rebuild Beirut and other areas after this summer’s Israeli bombardments, and we deposited one billion dollars in the Lebanese central bank to stabilize the currency and economy. We continue to monitor their needs and work with them to bring peace and stability.
Establishing peace has been a challenge as well in Iraq. Once again, Saudi Arabia has stood up for the ideals of peace and justice. We continue to support the Arab League in bringing all Iraqi factions together, and we support the Maliki government in its efforts to overcome the sectarian strife that is taking so many innocent lives.
To alleviate the burden the war has taken on the nation, Saudi Arabia has pledged one billion dollars in support. Of this total, $500 million are to be provided through the Saudi Development Fund to finance development projects in the areas of education, health, infrastructure and housing, in response to direct requests submitted by the Iraqi Government. The remaining $500 million are to finance trade between the two countries. Saudi Arabia has also already provided humanitarian and relief assistance to Iraq amounting to approximately $88 million. We are also talking to our Iraqi brethren on relieving their debt to the Kingdom.
But we still believe the solutions must come from within Iraq. And the Iraqi people and the Iraqi leadership are the ones that should determine their government and destiny. We are merely helping them get there.
For all of these issues, there is a tendency to compartmentalize and keep them separate. As we have seen, this is not an approach that will work. What is needed is a holistic and comprehensive strategy that starts directly with the root of the problem. And that problem is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Besides being a conflict between two peoples, the situation with Palestine and Israel has become an impediment to international stability. Without forging a solution, we will continue to be unable to secure lasting peace throughout the Middle East. And this turmoil, as we have all witnessed, will be echoed across the world.
Terrorists use the conflict to justify their evil acts around the world. Extremists use the conflict to recruit people to their cause. If you could see what people in the Middle East see on television every night, your opinion would change dramatically. For too long, the Palestinian people have endured great injustices and hardships. Many thousands live in hopeless poverty and thousands more have been uprooted from their homes. All have been deprived of minimum human and national rights.
Since peace is manifestly in the interest of the region and the world at large, it is that much more incumbent on leading powers, including Saudi Arabia and the United States, to be consistent – and insistent – in moving Palestine and Israel towards the known outlines of a durable settlement.
For this to be accomplished, though, we need implementation. For 50 years, we’ve had ideas and proposals, resolutions and initiatives. But never has there been an honest and just implementation, or enforcement, of these agreements.
Right now – even after the events of this summer – we have the Road Map – as outlined by President Bush – and the Abdullah Peace Plan. We need to finally bring these parties to the negotiating table. A lasting and just peace plan can only result from diplomatic negotiations. Israelis and Palestinians can begin to build confidence and trust in a process that takes into account the needs of both sides. Only when there is trust in the process, can there be trust in the implementation of the solution.
When this issue is removed from the table – or at the very least, allowed to move towards resolution – then others who use it to justify violence or misadventure will be quieted.
Ladies and Gentlemen: More international cooperation is needed to ensure that peace and stability can triumph in the world. Saudi Arabia has worked, and will continue to work, with its international partners to ensure this.