Thank you for inviting me here today. Dr. Kéchichian, thank you for chairing this roundtable. And Ambassador Jeffrey and Dr. Okruhlik, thank you for participating.
Since we will all be speaking, I will be sure to keep my remarks brief.
Upon reviewing the topic of discussion, I noticed the reference as to how Saudi Arabia and the United States had to, quote, “salvage” their relationship after 9/11. This is strong language. I think it would be more appropriate to say that we “reassessed” our relations. It would not be quite right to think we had to scrape together what was left. Nor do I think the relations we have today are based on anything that is less than genuine or real.
Often, what many people neglect to take into account is that the Saudi and American people – and our governments – have had a longstanding relationship. Everyone, of course, knows of the story of the first meeting of our leaders – when King Abdulaziz met with President Roosevelt in 1945. But the relationship did not end there, and then pick up again during the Gulf War, and then again today.
Our leaders have had continuing, close relations. The citizens of our countries, moreover, have interacted for even longer – since at least the mid-1930s. There has been a very strong underpinning to our relationship.
Certainly, no one can deny the fact that 9/11 raised some serious questions. No doubt, the event had the potential to put a significant rift in our relationship. That was, after all, what the terrorists had in mind. They wanted to divide and conquer – if you will.
What the terrorists did not count on was the sheer strength of our relationship. If, after 9/11, questions were asked about how two countries could carry on with only narrowing military coordination and energy cooperation, then I think the answers that came back were surprising. What all of us came to realize during that period of reassessment was that our nations, in fact, had a lot more in common. Over the years, our relationship had transcended what was previously thought of as its foundation – or the three traditional pillars: military cooperation, energy and trade.
We’ve come to see that there are at least six common area, or new pillars. In no particular order, they are: energy, trade, the war on terrorism, Middle East stability, military cooperation, and cultural relations. These pillars form our foundation. They define our interaction and provide us with concrete reasons why our nations continue to work together successfully.
Perhaps the most encouraging development for our two nations in the post-9/11 period has been the formation of the Saudi-U.S. Strategic Dialogue. This has given our governments a framework through which they can address questions, concerns and cooperation.
Regular, six-month meetings between the Saudi Foreign Minister and the U.S. Secretary of State truly help align our resources, capabilities and vision. So also do the meetings of the sub-groups, which address in detail our interaction on a variety of topics – from people and culture to energy and trade.
In the years ahead, the Strategic Dialogue will be instrumental to how we coordinate tactically abroad – as well as how we promote the most basic interests of our citizens and our business communities. Meetings of the Dialogue shall continue through this administration and then on through subsequent administrations. This will be instrumental in helping deal with the inevitable differences we’ll have on the issues before us.
When looking at the road ahead, there are several areas of importance for which our nation’s continuing cooperation is going to be critical. And those all have to do with the Middle East.
Foremost, certainly, is resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The peace process is no longer simply a regional necessity but a global imperative. Unfortunately, every time we get close, our hopes are dashed. For fifty years, we’ve had ideas and proposals, resolutions and initiatives. But no implementation. Right now – even after the events of this summer – we have the Road Map – as outlined by President Bush – and the Abdullah Peace Plan. Let them be implemented.
I raise the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as the central issue of concern for two reasons. First, no matter what, it is just a good idea. We need finally to get these parties moving toward a durable agreement. After five decades, allowing this situation to continue is pointless. Second, this conflict is the most obvious example of how the problems facing the broader Middle East are inter-related, on one level or another. Consequently, this also means that the solutions are inter-related. Greater recognition of this fact is needed.
If we look at the approach the United States has been taking over the past few years, we can see that it has been to compartmentalize each issue – whether Palestine or Iraq, Iran, Syria or Lebanon. Perhaps this has been done to minimize entanglements. These issues, though, all have ties to one another. I think it is pretty clear now that isolating each issue is not working. The American people and the Administration seem to see this too.
But great care will need to be taken as the U.S. reassesses its involvement in the Middle East, and if it begins to wade deeper into the complexities of regional relationships. I say this because after the fallout from mid-term elections settles, there is going to be an outpouring of ideas about how to address issues – which groups to support, which cards to play, which parties to back.
Without a critical understanding of the interplay in the region, more problems could result. Lebanon is good example. Another example is Iraq. There have been concerns raised about Iran’s influence in Iraq. To address this, Saudi Arabia talks to Iran on all issues. Our experience has been that talking with the Iranians is better than not talking with them.
As diplomatic maneuvering continues, this is where Saudi Arabia and the U.S. will need to keep working together. Our mutual interests in the region center on maintaining stability, avoiding further conflict, and not turning a blind eye to challenges. Our coordination to accomplish this is essential.
When it comes down to it, am I hopeful our nations will be able to effectively address the problems at hand? Yes, I am. I think we have the will and the capabilities to do so. But, I also remain realistic in that we need to act. We also need to keep in mind that if our goal is to heal – heal wounds of division and animosity – then the first priority of our diplomacy should be the same as a doctor’s: First, do no harm. Working together, we will be able to ensure this is accomplished.
Ladies and Gentlemen: thank you.