PRINCE SAUD: I’d like to welcome US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and your distinguished delegation to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia today. Today, we have convened the first Strategic Dialogue between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which was agreed on by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and President Bush during their meeting April 25th in order to enhance the historic ties between the two countries for over six decades. And it was described by the new leaders as the new era that will witness the development of the historic relationship in order to face the challenges that we are facing as well as the opportunities that exist for the future relationship between the two states.
The Strategic Dialogue is designed in order to institutionalize the relationship between the two states, between the two countries. These dialogues are conducted through senior officials to discuss a variety of strategic issues and political issues – security, financial, economic, cultural and social and other matters – especially in light of the challenges that we both face at the same time and through the threat of terrorism and the misconceptions that exist among people on both sides, as well as the continuous crisis that face the region in the Middle East that would require a great deal of work in order to face and confront through exchanging of views and create more points of views and coordination and joint understanding to allow the institutions on both sides to work jointly.
Here I would like to say that the Strategic Dialogue is considered as a continuation to the mechanisms of coordination between the two states and establishes a new mechanism under the umbrella of strategic dialogue. This is what was discussed today. We have discussed the various structures for the dialogue and objectives and the responsibilities in a way that meets the challenges of the period that we face and it is important for these structures to be flexible enough to deal with a variety of issues under the specific mandates.
We are confident that the joint will, the sincere will and the hard work will achieve the intended objectives of the Strategic Dialogue, with God’s help and support, and it will help to put a new cornerstone to the achievements that we have already achieved over the past six years and we will look forward to achieve our mutual goals and objectives.
I will give the floor to Secretary Rice.
SEC. RICE: Thank you very much, Minister, Royal Highness. We’ve just had, as the Minister has said, a very wide-ranging discussion. We’ve launched our Strategic Dialogue, the dialogue that was envisioned by the President and then Crown Prince, now King of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah. The Strategic Dialogue will allow the US to, in a more systematic and institutionalized fashion, have regular discussions about a number of issues of interest to us. And this is described in the joint statement so I will not go further in that regard.
We have also had discussions of the broad strategic interests that we hold together in fighting terrorism, in bringing about stability in the post-conflict areas of Afghanistan, Iraq, and of course we have talked about our partnership in the Core Group for Lebanon. We have had discussions of our economic relations, and I want to just say that we welcome Saudi Arabia into the World Trade Organization, congratulate Saudi Arabia on its accession, and look forward to the post World Trade Organization now period in which we will be able to work even more closely on economic issues.
We also have had an opportunity to discuss, as we always do, the course of reform that Saudi Arabia has set out on. I just want to note that, of course, the President has said to King Abdullah, I’ve said to the Minister and we believe deeply, that this is reform that is being done for the Saudi people by the Saudi leadership; it is a matter of indigenous reform, but it has been a very good discussion of what is going forward and I look forward to continuing those discussions.
Finally, let me thank Prince Saud for being the first to wish me Happy Birthday, with a very nice cake. It’s a day early, which when you’re as old as I am you count every day and try not to get there early, but I really do appreciate it. Thank you very much. And I think now we’ll take questions.
PRINCE SAUD: May I just say here I am delighted to say how much we appreciate the position the United States has taken about the entrance to the WTO for Saudi Arabia. Their help was instrumental in this decision that was taken a couple of days ago, so our thanks again, Madame Secretary.
And may I also say that either a statement has been distributed to you or will be distributed to you about the meeting between us.
Q: Hello, Madame Secretary. With the President Bush approval ratings at an all-time low and the American people having doubts about progress of the war in Iraq, does the U.S. have an exit strategy out of Iraq and when does it expect to start pulling out its troops from Saudi Arabia?
SEC. RICE: Thank you very much for the question. The President, when he, with the coalition, decided that it was time to enforce the just demands of the world on Saddam Hussein and to remove this threat from the region and then ultimately to give the Iraqi people an opportunity to build a more democratic future, recognized that this would entail sacrifice and that it would not be an easy road ahead. The United States therefore remains committed to the goals that were set out, which is to take a situation in which tyranny existed and to help the Iraqi people to build a democratic future on the ruins of that tyranny.
Our strategy is one for success and we don’t talk in terms of exit strategies. We talk in terms of success strategies. And that means that we are supportive of the political process that is underway in Iraq to bring about an Iraq that is for all Iraqis. And I want to thank the Saudi Government for its support of a political process in Iraq that would be inclusive so that all of Iraq’s groups might feel that their future is with this new Iraq.
I’d note, too, that the political process is well underway. There have been two elections and there will be a third in December. And the Iraqi people – I was just there – appear very committed to that process.
It is also the case that we are helping to build Iraqi security forces because the best outcome will be when Iraqis can secure themselves. But the multinational forces are there under a U.N. mandate and they are there because they are needed. They are there because the Iraqis are facing down terrorists who seem only to want to kill innocent Iraqis in the service of whatever cause it is that they’re espousing. And they are, by the way, many of the same people who wish to cause harm to populations here in Riyadh or in London or, for that matter, in New York or Washington.
I do believe that the United States and others will not need to keep forces of the size that we have there because the Iraqis are going to step up and are stepping up to their responsibilities. But any decisions about our troop strength will be on recommendation from the commanders on the ground and will be a result of the conditions on the ground.
Q: Sue Pleming from Reuters. Your Highness, are you still concerned that policies in Iraq will lead to its disintegration? And Madame Secretary, did you get adequate assurances that Saudi Arabia will follow through on its assurances to give $1 billion for Iraq reconstruction?
PRINCE SAUD: Well, I can give the assurance instead of the Secretary that we will remain committed in order to give Iraq and for the efforts of Saudi Arabia in Iraq. We are working within the Arab League and the work is work that goes along in helping the process that is going on to achieve its objective. After all, the political process, whatever it is, without common understanding between the factions in Iraq, would be limited and would threaten the unity of the country.
Now that that step has been taken, my fears which I have expressed earlier are much more eased today than they were at the time that I expressed them.
SEC. RICE: Were you – did you have trouble hearing? More eased? Is that what you were saying?
PRINCE SAUD: No, she was asking –
SEC. RICE: No, I had trouble hearing the very end, I think.
PRINCE SAUD: More eased.
SEC. RICE: Right, okay. Thank you. Yes, you just got the assurance and I believe strongly that Saudi Arabia will fulfill that commitment. And let me just say that what happens in Iraq, of course, is a concern to both of us. This is not the United States trying to incent Saudi Arabia to be concerned about Iraq or about the future of Iraq. Saudi Arabia has had to live with the threat of Saddam Hussein in the past, and of course because of that threat was a very strong coalition partner in the Gulf War in 1991. It just shows how close Iraq is to Saudi Arabia. And so we understand that the future of Iraq is of very deep concern to Saudi Arabia.
But we are in very good discussions with each other but also with the Iraqis about – (inaudible) – that that future will be a bright one.
PRINCE SAUD: Must be nervous.
SEC. RICE: Yes. Well, somebody doesn’t want to hear it. (Laughter.)
Q: Secretary of State, Happy Birthday, first of all.
SEC. RICE: Thank you.
Q My question is, during your visit to Iraq and again here you are talking or expressing your hope that Saudi Arabia play a role in Iraq actually in convincing the Sunni Arabs to participate in the coming election. But we hear from time to time from some Iraqi officials, especially the majority Shi’ite Iraqi in the ruling party, that they don’t welcome such a role to be played by any neighboring country.
So my question is what the Government of America did to convince those parties that the role that Saudi Arabia might play is a positive role and that it’s not interference in their internal affairs, especially that Saudi Arabia succeeded in bringing together the different parties in Lebanon during the Cedar war.
SEC. RICE: Yes, thank you. You make a very important point. All of us – Saudi Arabia, the United States, other – and the neighbors – need to be engaged with the Iraqis and encouraging the Iraqis toward a political process that is inclusive. But it is, of course, an Iraqi process, and if the Iraqis themselves are not the owners of that process, it will never work.
That is why it is a good thing that there are meetings, perhaps even an Arab League meeting, that there have been interactions at Sharm el-Sheikh with the Iraqis, about how to encourage people to participate. But when it comes right down to it, it has to be the Iraqis that embrace each other.
The remarkable thing to me is that despite the years of tyranny, despite the fact that these groups have existed side by side and that Saddam Hussein exacerbated tensions between them with a small minority oppressing the large majority of the people – and I might add, Sunnis also suffered under Saddam Hussein. It was not just Shi’a and Kurds. It was also many Sunnis who did. Despite that, now that they are trying to solve their problems by politics and compromise rather than by force and coercion; they seem to be to be showing an incredible willingness to try and overcome their differences through political institutions.
If you look at the constitution when it was first drafted, it was not a constitution that most Sunnis believed expressed their interests. Changes were made practically right up until the last moment to try to encourage that. But perhaps the most important change that was made was that there was an agreement – or the most important aspect of the constitution is that there was an agreement that many of the important decisions about what laws would govern, for instance, federalism, were put off to the next national assembly, and the next national assembly will be more representative because Sunnis are now engaged in the political process.
So I think we ought to express confidence in the Iraqi people because they are demonstrating that they are prepared to have an inclusive and very good process, political process, to overcome their history of violence, and also because they are paying with their lives to be a part of this political process. In January the terrorists threatened them and 8.5 million of them voted. In December – sorry, in October the terrorists threatened them and almost 10 million of them voted. And so the Iraqi people deserve our confidence and deserve our admiration for how they are trying to overcome this long history that they have.
Peter. I think Peter – we’ll come back to you. Peter.
Q: Thank you. Peter Mackler, Agence France Presse. Madame Secretary, can you give US your reaction to yesterday’s meeting in Bahrain? Are you disappointed that it broke up without the adoption of a declaration?
And Your Highness, it has been said that sometimes that the Saudis are less than enthusiastic supporters of the US democracy agenda. So to that end, can I ask you, the municipal councils that are supposed to be the most visible sign of your democratic progress have yet to meet. When will they meet? And have you had a chance to read the Secretary’s speech on democracy of several months ago?
SEC. RICE: Oh, all right, I’ll start. First of all, I thought the meeting yesterday was terrific and the Foreign Minister was there. He can speak to it. I thought it was remarkable that we sat in this room together, talked in detail about human potential, talked about how to enhance political participation, how to enhance the empowerment of women. We had civil society with us, which has been an – was an unusual development here in this region. Civil society groups from all over the region were there.
We established the Fund for the Future which will help entrepreneurship and business, but perhaps most importantly we produced the Foundation for the Future. And that is a foundation to which Arab states and Western states have contributed alike. It’s the first institution really of the Broader Middle East Initiative and it will help to fund small projects by nongovernmental organizations.
Now let me speak directly to the issue of the declaration. These are hard issues. People actually care what this declaration says. And in the eleventh hour, at the very end, there were – there was a concern – it really boiled down to a concern – about language concerning the NGOs and their status, legal status, in various countries. And rather than have ambiguous language, we decided not to have the declaration. I think it was done actually in a way that was legitimate and democratic, if you will, given the circumstances.
But I have to say I was really quite surprised when I read this morning that somehow a forum that produced this kind of interaction, that produced a Fund and a Foundation, that produced a commitment to continue this dialogue, that is taking place in a context of a Middle East that is changing dramatically, with a democratizing Iraq, with a democratizing Afghanistan, Syrian forces out of Lebanon through international cooperation and, by the way, the cooperation of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, where Saudi Arabia has had municipal elections, where in Kuwait women have the right to vote, and we could never have imagined that two years ago, I find that we didn’t have a declaration because of one point, to have been a minor issue here and one that by no means undermined the importance of the meeting and what has been achieved.
PRINCE SAUD: As you can see from the subject matter of the conferences that the Secretary explained how delicate many of the issues that were discussed are. And indeed, if there is anything surprising it’s the high level of attendance to the conference and the high level of representation in the conference. So I wouldn’t define that as failure of the conference. I think it is to the credit of the United States that instead of pushing for a statement that has some reservations by some countries, it waited for a future meeting to adjust whatever differences that exist.
All in all, I think the United States came out very well in its position from this conference and I think the conference was able to discuss many sensitive issues in a spirit of understanding, and the common ground between the countries has expanded rather than shrunk. And so I wouldn’t call it by any means a failure.
As to the elections, I think they will meet on the scheduled time after the end of the elections. I don’t know the exact date, but they will certainly meet for the municipal elections.
Q: I will go to the backbone of the Saudi-American relationship. It is noticeable that the American administrations always discuss Saudi-American relations saying it’s solid and strong, but there are many attempts by various Jewish lobbies to affect the US-Saudi relations, including the potential discussions in the Congress about Saudi Accountability Act. Does the State Department see a contradiction in these efforts as far as how international relations are conducted?
Also the other issue is the latest terrorist acts in Amman, Jordan. Does that encourage you to establish an international center, as the King of Saudi Arabia proposed early on, to combat terror?
SEC. RICE: I’m sorry, an international center? First of all, there are many voices in the United States and they speak out about their views of our relationships around the world. And this is true not just for the US-Saudi relationship, but for any relationship that you can name there are many voices about the course of that relationship and about how it is going.
The fact is that the Administration views the relationship as one that is strong and broad and where we have many, many common interests and where we are acting on those common interests.
It is no secret that we have had to intensify our efforts on a number of fronts, particularly, for instance, concerning terrorism, terrorism financing. The questions about charitable organizations and what role they might have played without the knowledge of governments on the financing of terrorism has been a concern not just to us but to the Saudi Government. And I might note that we didn’t have a very good understanding of this inside the United States until after September 11th as well. And so yes, we’ve had to intensify our efforts on terrorist financing and we believe that we’ve made progress, but there is always more progress that can be made.
We also have made clear that we would hope that the Saudi Government will do more on issues of incitement, issues of the way that there is a portrayal of countries around the world, sometimes a portrayal of the United States, sometimes a portrayal of Israel. We’ve made that very clear.
But there is sometimes an underlying sense that if there are issues in a relationship then you don’t have a good relationship. Well, there are issues in almost every relationship that we have around the world. The key is to be able to address those issues honestly, to be able to address differences honestly and to have mechanisms in which to address both that which is common and that which is not common.
That is one reason that we thought the Strategic Dialogue, which now has six working groups that can get to know each other and go into issues in more detail, is an important innovation.
And as to the Zarqawi terrorism, while it does reinforce our desire and our will to fight terrorism, I think we have very good cooperation and we’re always open to ideas on how more cooperation can be brought to bear on the problem.
PRINCE SAUD: (Inaudible) – say one thing about this question. There is no doubt that there is at least misunderstanding regarding the public opinion in the United States about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There is also misunderstanding within the public opinion in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia about the United States. Both of us believe that policies that combine between two countries that it’s not based on deep understanding among the publics on both sides must create some problems sometimes.
Therefore we and the United States are working very harder to affect the public opinion on both sides in order to explain the policies of mutual interest and also clarify the views of the public opinion on both sides. In addition to what we have done today in establishing this new mechanism, I believe that will play a major role in improving the public opinions’ point of view on both countries to meet the mutual understanding and interests.
SEC. RICE: Steve.
Q: Thank you. Steve Weisman with the New York Times. Your Highness and Madame Secretary, Prince Turki, the new Ambassador to the United States, gave an interesting speech recently, saying that the main political reason for terrorism and the anger among some is the failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He also suggested that the Bush Administration could be more even-handed in its approach.
Your Highness, I wonder if you could expand on that point and tell us if you discussed that today. And Madame Secretary, of course, if you could respond to what seemed to be a criticism. Thank you.
PRINCE SAUD: I don’t hold myself responsible always for what the new Ambassador in Washington says – (laughter) – but in this case I do agree to a great extent. Certainly, the continuation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict helps in giving – allowing the terrorists to justify their actions in the eyes of some young people who are not of full knowledge of the situation and who are still in the formative years of their development.
Terrorism of that sort cannot be condoned under any circumstances, but it does give justification and it allows their recruitment. And in that tract alone, it behooves us to do everything we can to remove that, and because getting rid of terrorism not only means fighting them and not allowing financing to go to them, but to stop recruitment, or it will be a never-ending cycle. And that is why we say what we say in terms of the Palestinian-Israeli question, just as a fact of life to us.
SEC. RICE: Well, I appreciate very much what the Foreign Minister has just said. There are obviously people who try to use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to justify their acts against innocent civilians. There are those who try to do it within the Palestinian territories. I think what the Palestinians themselves have said is that, in fact, there is not that justification because they want a peaceful course for the development, and those who are using violence are, in fact, doing nothing but frustrating the hopes and the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a peaceful life side by side with the Israelis. But the people use it as an excuse, people have used it as an excuse; the good thing is the world is now saying, as the Minister has just said, there isn’t a justification for the killing of innocents.
Now let me make just one other point about the Palestinian- Israeli conflict.
It ought to be resolved because Palestinians deserve a better life and Israelis deserve a better life. That’s why it ought to be resolved. And that’s why we are working as hard as we can to try and build on what has happened with the disengagement of Israeli forces and Israeli settlements from Gaza. That’s why we believe that the road map is a reliable guide to a two-state solution. That is why we press both parties to live up to their obligations under that road map, because the Middle East will most certainly be a much better place when there is a Palestinian state, a democratic Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel. It will be a better place for the Palestinians, it will be a better place for the Israelis, and it will be a better place for their neighbors as well.
We are encouraging the others – we remember fondly that Crown Prince Abdullah talked about a way forward. Some of the elements of that were incorporated into a statement to which Saudi Arabia was a party at the time of the Sharm el-Sheikh meetings with President Bush in 2003. Questions like the need to end incitement, questions like the need to reach out and try to find ways of engagement with Israel – all of these issues are very important and everybody has their part to play. But we agree completely that the resolution of the Palestinian- Israeli conflict is of the highest priority, one of the highest priorities that we have, because people should not have to live in the conditions of terror, hopelessness, lack of economic and development that the Palestinians do, or in the conditions of fear that the Israelis do.
PRINCE SAUD: And may I add that Saudi Arabia’s position cannot be better defined than it was defined by the proposal that Kind Fahd himself had placed in the Arab Summit in Lebanon, and so that describes not only our interest in peace but our willingness to work that peace, towards that peace, and the peace that allows both the Israelis and the Arabs to live a better life than they have in the past.
We will take two more questions.
Q: I have two questions, one for His Royal Highness and for your, Madame.
PRINCE SAUD: You’re taking both questions? (Laughter.)
Q: It’s very short. Madame Secretary, in fact, how much you are convinced that the Syrians very genuinely wants to cooperate with the international investigation since President Bashar says that whatever they will do, they are not going to convince the American Administration?
And I would like to ask His Highness, His Royal Highness, the Crown Prince, will be visiting Egypt soon. What is the importance of the visit?
SEC. RICE: Well, I think we have to say that the Syrians have not yet showed the full desire to cooperate. There seems to be some desire to negotiate with Mr. Mehlis instead of saying yes to his requests. But one way or another, I hope that Syria is going to cooperate. It is the demand of the international community that they do.
We need to know who was involved in the murder of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. We need to know the degree to which some of the very disturbing findings that Mr. Mehlis had in his interim report are indeed the case once he has finished the investigation, because these are very serious charges.
And I believe that the entire international community, represented in the 15-0 vote by the U.N. Security Council, is telling Syria that it is indeed time to cooperate. And so I have not seen it yet. What I’ve seen is, so far, a lot of criticism of the process and a lot of criticism of the investigation. That just isn’t going to – it’s not going to cut it. The situation is very clear. The 15-0 vote could not have been clearer. And I know that people are delivering the message to Syria that it indeed ought to cooperate.
I think he asked you about the King’s visit to Cairo.
PRINCE SAUD: You have a better memory than I. (Laughter.)
Yes, the Crown Prince is visiting Cairo and I am sure the discussions will range and discuss most of the issues that face the region and bilateral relations between both countries. So the subject, I am sure, will crop up and they will discuss it.
Q: Your Highness, in the United States it is still widely thought or suggested that the Saudis are not "serious" about the war on terrorism. One of the issues has been raised in this press conference that there is still too much incitement, anti-U.S. incitement, anti-Israel incitement, in this country. So may we know your response on that, please? Is your government serious about the war on terrorism?
And Madame Secretary, same question: Do you think the Saudis are?
PRINCE SAUD: I suggest that the media has a lot to do with that impression. And you are here. Visit the country and see whether we’re serious about fighting terror or not. Our people are being killed. Our resources are being squandered on terrorist activity. We are fighting as hard as we can. We have made incitement a crime, not just an ordinary thing that should be sanctioned. And we have made programs for education, for public opinion, about terror, the causes of it, the results of it. Our ulema have spoken clearly against terror and the incitement against terror, but yet we only hear the talk of some unknown sheikh in one of the mosques and we leave alone the word of the main religious people in Saudi Arabia and not report on it.
So whatever we do, it seems that we are lacking in our efforts. But I would dare anybody to say that there is any other country that is fighting terror as hard as Saudi Arabia is. And I do wish you would come not within a visit like this but come and see and take for yourself what we are doing.
SEC. RICE: The reason that countries and leaders are fighting terrorism is not to please us. It’s not to please the United States. It’s because their own people are dying from these terrorists. It is because the region is suffering a sense of instability and a sense of insecurity from these terrorists. It is because no one wants to contemplate a future in which the aspirations of the people are being met by strapping on suicide bombs and killing innocents.
We’re united in this fight. The people who are isolated are people like Zarqawi and bin Laden and his people. Because when you go around the world and you talk to governments, many of which now have experienced terrorism – Riyadh has experienced terrorism. Right here in Jeddah there was an attack against our Consulate in which Saudi security forces died. The al Qaeda network here has been pursued and pursued actively to the point that I think some more than 20 – it may be 25 or 26 top leaders have been captured or killed. The Saudis are working on financing. Of course, they can do more, we can do more, on the terrorist financing side.
But I think we make a mistake if we somehow believe that people don’t want to fight terrorism. They do want to fight terrorism. Terrorism is a scourge. It is a threat to us all. It’s a threat to civilized people everywhere when a suicide bomber walks into a Palestinian wedding in Jordan and kills 17 people. It’s a threat to us all when, in Beslan, Russia hundreds of Russian children and school teachers are killed by terrorists who decided to take over a school. It’s a threat to us all when people fly airplanes into the Twin Towers and into the Pentagon on a fine September day.
So we’re united in this fight. This took a long time to develop – these terrorist networks – and it’s going to take a while to break them down. But both because we are pursuing them actively as a law enforcement and intelligence matter and pursuing them in cooperation, we’re having some successes, and because I think everybody is beginning to understand that the real permanent solution has got to be to develop within countries circumstances in which human potential can be reached and in which people really do feel that their aspirations can be met in a positive way and not be driven to these extremes.
And so I want to thank the Saudi Government for its cooperation in the war on terrorism. I am certain that the Saudi Government can do better. I am certain that all of us can do better. But there is, I believe, no lack of will.
PRINCE SAUD: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.