Mr. Clemons, thank you for the kind introduction. And thank you for welcoming me back to speak before you and your distinguished guests. I appreciate your mission to foster debate and new ideas on many important issues of the day. And in the spirit of debate and discussion, I will keep my remarks brief; as I am sure you have many questions.
A great deal has changed since the last time I was here, which was at the end of July. During that visit, passions ran high as Israel led a vicious and immoral bombardment of Lebanon – destroying infrastructure and innocent life to no reasonable end. The military battles have concluded in that situation. But the tensions continue.
Also since July, the situation in Iraq has become more complex. The deterioration of security in that country is a concern for all, affecting the stability of the region and the world.
In his recent speech on the topic, President Bush raised important points about dealing with the Iraqi militias and moving toward national reconciliation. On Monday, Secretary of State Rice met with King Abdullah and Foreign Minster Prince Saud to ensure that our collective energies are focused on resolving the situation there.
Although it has been articulated repeatedly, I think 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. 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. Our foreign minister has just endorsed the aims of President Bush’s new strategy for Iraq.
As you know, Secretary Rice’s visit to the Middle East also brings her to Palestine. Her aim is to promote efforts to speed up the peace process. Saudi Arabia applauds any US involvement in this area, just as we always have. American mediation of diplomatic negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis is critical to a just and lasting peace.
We still believe this conflict is central to all issues facing the Middle East. This is where they all begin. All of the regional issues are interrelated on some level.
Of course, we also hope the people directly involved will act as well. The Kingdom encourages the Palestinians to resume a national dialogue to eliminate tension and violence. Peace talks are an essential element within the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative and the Road Map for Peace.
There has also been another change since my last visit here in July.
In December, as you know, I decided to retire from my post as Ambassador. There was much talk about this in the press. You can discount all of it, including Mr. Clemons’ contribution. As Mark Twain said, “I have been through some terrible things in my life – some of which actually happened.”
The truth is King Abdullah has graciously allowed me to end my diplomatic term in order to spend more time with my family. After having spent more than 30 years in government service, I feel it is time to move on. King Abdullah honored me by appointing me Ambassador to the United States. It has been a privilege.
In the past few weeks, I have taken the opportunity to reflect on my time as Ambassador in your great country. During my tenure there have been many challenges that we’ve faced. But overall, I am proud that the Saudi-US relationship is stronger than ever. Part of this strength is due to the understanding of how diplomatic relations have evolved over the years between us and the way our two countries are growing together on different levels.
Kings, presidents and prime ministers all discuss important policy issues directly. Ambassadors, foreign ministers and secretaries of State are also part of these official government relationships. With the Strategic Dialogue in place between Saudi Arabia and the US, there is yet another level of connection between officials.
Upon reflection, I am encouraged because the evolution of diplomatic relations between our two countries not only includes officials, it includes the people. The people-to-people connection that Saudis and Americans began over 70 years ago, is now the backbone for the strength of the relationship today. While the terms of Kings and Presidents eventually end, the relationships between people will last generations.
That is why so much of my job has been to reach out to the American people, to help continue to build relations, to inform and to listen. This is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. I traveled to over 30 cities in more than 20 states. And all the people I met with during my travels have left a lasting impression on me. The optimism, curiosity, and support they displayed make me truly believe that our alliance is a special one.
The Kingdom has had a 70-year relationship with your country. It’s been a fruitful and a mutually beneficial relationship. I hope that Saudi Arabia and the US will continue to work towards the betterment of relations between our countries, governments – and most importantly – our peoples.
Ladies and Gentlemen: I believe that despite the challenges we face, if we continue to work together, nothing is impossible.
Thank you very much.