Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Dr. Karawan, thank you very much for the kind introduction.
It is my pleasure to be with you here at the Hinckley Institute of Politics. The Institute has a long and proud history of promoting political and civic involvement. As students here, you should be proud to be a part of such a legacy. You should take advantage of every opportunity to participate in a field that I obviously find to be an important one.
I have always been fortunate to hold positions that have allowed me to actively engage many of the critical issues of the last few decades – many of which you are studying. As the director of the Kingdom’s main foreign intelligence service, I have had to deal with notorious men like Osama bin Laden. But I also had the privilege to work with great individuals like Colin Powell and Nelson Mandela.
A few years ago, after stepping down from that position, I reentered global affairs from a new perspective. King Fahd appointed me as ambassador to Great Britain and Ireland. This was followed just last year by the appointment here to the United States. This was a great honor, but it was, also, quite a change. When you’re in the intelligence business, your job is to keep quiet. As a diplomat, your job is to talk to everyone. It is probably best to make the transition in that order – from heading intelligence to being a diplomat.
This change has provided me with exposure to new perspectives and ideas. During the last six months, I have traveled to more than 15 states, where I have met with thousands of Americans. In particular, I have been speaking with many students at colleges and universities, nationwide.
And while I have been listening to American students voice their questions and concerns about relations between the U.S. 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 this country. 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. Indeed, Saudis have been coming to this country to study long before I arrived.
During the last 70-some years, tens of thousands of Saudis citizens have received their education here, including many Saudi officials. In addition to this, hundreds of thousands of Saudis have visited the United States for vacation, medical treatment, and to see family and friends. Such interaction predated and then underscored official relations between the two countries. It was the foundation that set the tone for what was to come.
The governments only began official diplomatic relations in 1945, when King Abdulaziz, the founder of the modern Saudi state, met with President Franklin Roosevelt aboard the USS Quincy in the Red Sea. These men built on the foundation formed by the people-to-people connection our nations shared to create a partnership that has long been categorized as “special.”
From a diplomatic standpoint, the relationship has always been unique. Because of the ties between our peoples, our governments have always worked actively for each other’s strategic interests – whether it was energy security, military coordination, or commerce. The two countries have always placed cooperation above all else. The peoples of Saudi Arabia and the U.S. share goals, and principles, and beliefs, which outweigh differences, and dissimilarities. We both share the same basic belief in faith, family and the importance of honest and open communication. these common attributes have served us well in tackling global challenges throughout the world during the last 60 years.
Take a brief look at the history of our cooperation, and you will see this. Some 54 years ago – in 1953 – the first U.S. military training mission arrived in Saudi Arabia to supervise Saudi military assistance and training activities. A few years later, Dhahran Airbase began hosting American forces to contain the former Soviet Union. Saudi Arabia has always been inherently anti-Communist, so on both an ideological and strategic basis, our nations had reason to cooperate.
Saudi Arabia then stood with the U.S. during the 1950s and 1960s when radicalism in the Arab World threatened to lead a socialist revolution throughout the region.
When the British withdrew from the Gulf in 1970, Saudi Arabia became one of the “twin pillars” of Gulf security. When the other “twin pillar” – Iran under the Shah – became the leading price hawk in OPEC and sought to undermine the primacy of the dollar in world trade, Saudi Arabia steadily increased production to keep oil prices in check, and insisted that oil be priced only in dollars.
During the Vietnam conflict, Saudi Arabia consistently supplied as much oil as needed to U.S. military forces – even during the 1973 oil embargo. When the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam, Saudi Arabia stepped in quietly to provide aid to anti-Communist movements in countries that were falling rapidly into the pro-Soviet sphere: Zaire, Somalia, Angola, and Nicaragua. Most importantly, we both supported the Mujahideen in Afghanistan during 1980s, contributing to the end of the Cold War.
Then, within one week of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Saudi Arabia began hosting a coalition of international forces, including over half a million U.S. troops. We paid for all their in-country support, including free fuel for all military operations. Of all countries in the world, Saudi Arabia made the largest direct financial contributions to the effort to liberate Kuwait.
Then in 2002, when the U.S. fought its successful war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, air operations were headquartered at the Prince Sultan Airbase outside of Riyadh.
And, although we were not in favor of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Saudi Arabia has made every effort to ensure that the hardship of the Iraqi people is mitigated.
After Saddam’s regime was overthrown and major military operations in Iraq ended, Saudi Arabia further provided a comprehensive aid package, delivered convoys of humanitarian supplies, and sent a large, fully staffed field hospital to Baghdad to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people. Saudi Arabia remains fully committed to efforts to foster a stable, peaceful and united Iraq.
Today, deep cooperation between the Kingdom and the U.S. continues, but on a broader slate of issues. If you look at the problems we’re facing today – the war on terrorism, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel, and energy security – none of these problems can be faced alone. The U.S. cannot deal with these problems without us. And Saudi Arabia cannot deal with them without the U.S.
From a historical standpoint, such interdependence and cooperation is unique. But in reality, it is now a necessity for the nations of the world. It has become the hallmark of diplomacy in this modern age. With the advent of globalization – which has brought us the benefits of global commerce as well as the horrors of global terrorism – cooperation between nations in resolving conflicts is not just critical; it is mandatory for the good of the global community.
As students, citizens and likely future leaders, the global implications of interdependence will only become greater as the world community expands. And the challenges that I have mentioned – the same ones you see before you today – will still be with the world tomorrow. These challenges are the ones that will get you out of bed early in the morning. They are also challenges that will cause you not to sleep at night. But you will be the ones that will have an impact on the world around you based on how you choose to solve them.
Your decisions will potentially affect the peace or the aggression of not just governments, but of peoples who live across borders and across oceans. As students in an age in which conflict has begotten conflict, and over and again, I hope you pursue the path of peace and diplomacy; because greater cooperation between nations is the only real answer.
Napoleon is said once to have remarked to Fontanes, the grand master of the University of Paris, that force is incapable of establishing anything. There are only two powers in the world, he said, the sword and the mind. “In the end,” Napoleon concluded, “the sword is always conquered by the mind.”
I believe that is as true today as it was 200 years ago, and as true as it will be 200 years from now. I also believe in the enduring power of relationships. I am confident that Saudi Arabia and the United States will be able to affect positive change in the Middle East and throughout the global community. But it will take time, and it will take patience. And, God willing, we will see peace in the world one day.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Thank you.