Ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be here today. President Trachtenberg, thank you very much for the kind introduction.
George Washington once said, “Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.” I hope to accommodate Mr. Washington’s perspective today.
During my tenure as Ambassador, I have been speaking with many students at colleges and universities nationwide; from Georgetown and American University to the University of Southern California on the west coast and Brigham Young University in Utah, where I was earlier this month. Wherever I go, I am encouraged by the interest taken in Saudi Arabia. Of course, I am biased, but I believe the interest is justified.
And while I have been listening to American students voice their questions and concerns about relations between the United States and my country, I have also been listening to Saudi students who are here studying. There are now, in fact, more than 10,000 Saudi students in the United States. Thanks to a reinvigorated Saudi government scholarship program, thousands of Saudis are now able to study abroad – mostly in the U.S. – carrying on a long tradition of exchange.
The Kingdom, as you know, holds a unique position in the world. As home to the two Holy Mosques of Islam, we have natural religious responsibilities. Our stability, influence and geopolitical position make us a political leader in the Middle East. And our energy resources make us a nation of global economic significance as well.
In my travels across the United States, I have met so many people with questions about all of these areas. I hope that my remarks today will lead to a greater understanding of the role Saudi Arabia plays in each of them. When I’m finished, I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Many of you in the audience today are graduate students at the Elliott School. You are here because you are potentially seeking a career in international affairs. The importance of the fields you are studying grows with each day. Whether your focus is Security Policy, or International Trade and Investment Policy, you will be faced with some of the world’s most interesting challenges. You will also have the chance to discover new opportunities in your future work.
In Saudi Arabia, we are also faced with interesting challenges. Our eyes are open to new opportunities. Many of the challenges we face are shared with the United States. For example, the deterioration of security in Iraq is a great challenge – as it affects the stability of not just the region but the entire world.
This is why Saudi Arabia and its international partners, particularly the United States, are working together to find a solution. Last Monday, Secretary Rice met with King Abdullah and Foreign Minster Prince Saud to ensure that our collective energies are focused on resolving the situation in Iraq.
Although it has been articulated repeatedly, it is worth saying again: Saudi Arabia is absolutely committed to helping the Iraqi people – all the Iraqi people. The Kingdom stands behind a sovereign Iraqi government. And our objective is to see a stable, peaceful, united Iraq that is representative of all factions. We continue to work with the United States to this end.
Ultimately, though, success lies in the hands of the Iraqi people. Their willingness to trade violent means for diplomatic ones is the key to a resolution.
Being able to effectively address this challenge, however, requires strength. So the Kingdom recognizes that it must first address its own internal issues before it can help others with theirs. Saudi Arabia, of course, has its own unique set of challenges that present us with a great deal of opportunity. We are a nation on the move, and in our economy and our education system, we are taking advantage of this time to improve our citizens’ way of life by confronting our issues head on.
Our economic wellbeing is a priority for us. It goes without saying that Saudi Arabia is blessed with bountiful oil reserves, but we recognize that it is a finite resource. We also know that our best and infinite resource is our people. So while we enrich ourselves from one, we must also invest in the other. This ensures the quality of life of our citizens is sustainable.
An important component of this has been the diversification of our economy. The Kingdom has been liberalizing its trade policies, enacting new regulatory laws, increasing transparency, and opening up its economy to foreign investment. To further stimulate growth, we have also enacted laws, such as those allowing foreign businessmen and women to obtain visas without an invitation. All of this, moreover, supports our recent ascension to the World Trade Organization.
The Kingdom, ladies and gentlemen, is open for business, and we are doing quite well.
The clearest sign is that the Saudi economy is currently booming; not just in the energy sector, but in many diversified industries. The World Bank even rates Saudi Arabia’s business environment as the best in the Middle East. In fact, there will be more than $650 billion in investment opportunities that will be generated in the Kingdom over the next 15 years in a number of fields, including information technology, developing the mining and tourism business, and further privatizing state-owned corporations, such as our airlines. We are creating centers of commerce and business; like the King Abdullah Economic City in Rabigh. This $26 billion mega-project will be a next generation center of finance, healthcare, and technological development. This City is just one of four economic centers that are being created in the Kingdom and will serve as a center in Saudi Arabia for the private sector.
We cannot forget that the health of our economy is linked to the health of our education system. Young people cannot contribute to the global economy unless they are prepared correctly. We are taking significant strides to modernize and improve our education system. Saudi schools are introducing new curricula – curricula that emphasize critical thinking, math and science. The Kingdom is in the process of reviewing all of its education practices and materials, and is updating any element that is inconsistent with the needs of a modern education.
To ensure that our efforts are comprehensive, we are sending Saudi students out into the world on scholarships to receive their college education. Thousands are receiving educations at colleges and universities all over the world. These students will be going out into the world to build the bridges of understanding. These bridges will contribute to future relationships between nations. they are our true Ambassador’s ladies and gentlemen. People-to-people interaction is a powerful force. As part of an institution that incorporates this multinational philosophy, George Washington University, I know that you understand this.
All of these initiatives are important to the Saudi-U.S. relationship. They will form the basis for our future relationship. Our countries have had a mutually beneficial relationship for more than 70 years. Our partnership has helped us overcome the challenges we’ve faced and take advantage of the opportunities before us.
Ladies and Gentlemen: today’s challenges are not impossible to overcome; not the ones that face our individual nations, or the ones facing the world community. But the key is cooperation. We must also never lose sight that within every challenge, there’s an opportunity.
Ashkurukum shukran jazeelan – thank you very much – and barak Allah feekum – and God bless you all.