WASHINGTONPOST.COM: Welcome to Viewpoint! Our guest today is Adel Al-Jubeir, Foreign Affairs Advisor to the Crown Prince, to answer questions on the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Let's get started.
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: It's great to be here. I look forward to your questions. Let's get started.
WASHINGTON DC: Why did the Crown Prince meet with President Bush?
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: Our two countries have been friends and allies for seven decades and it is common for our leaders to meet on a regular basis to discuss issues of mutual concern. We are allies in the war on terrorism, we are partners in the search for peace and stability in the Middle East, we have extensive trade relations, and we have deep ties between our two peoples. When our leaders meet, it represents an opportunity to reinforce the historic ties between our two countries.
ANONYMOUS: What is Saudi Arabia doing to bring down the price of oil?
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: We have increased our oil production. We are investing tremendous amounts of capital to increase our production capacity in the future to accommodate the world’s rising demand for crude oil. The current high prices are a function of several factors, and are not simply due to a lack of supply: the lack of refining capacity, political risk, and speculation by hedge funds all contribute to putting upward pressure on prices. We believe that the market’s supply and demand picture is in equilibrium and that the current high level of prices will eventually reflect that by trending downwards.
FALLS CHURCH, VA: What are the steps your government is undertaking to secure the lives of foreigners and non-Saudi citizens working over there against any attack of any “deviant groups”?
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: We are determined to provide for the safety of all of our citizens and residents. We have increased the number of forces we have to counter the terrorists and we have had, thank God, great success in killing or capturing terrorists and disrupting their financing and recruiting capabilities. We believe that Saudi citizens and residents, as a consequence of these actions, are safer today than they were in the past. And we will continue to do whatever is required to ensure the safety of everyone in Saudi Arabia.
LONDON, UK: What do you make of the recent claims by Matthew Simmons that Saudi Arabia's proved oil reserves are not as great as officially claimed? What can Saudi Arabia do to reassure the world about the amount of oil it has left?
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: We take issue with Mr. Simmons' analysis, as do most serious oil experts. The data he uses is outdated. Saudi Aramco, our national oil company, is one of the most sophisticated oil companies in the world, and very conservative when it comes to reservoir management, and we have full confidence in its methodology and ability to produce oil.
WASHINGTON DC: Oprah Winfrey recently aired a short piece on journalist and domestic abuse survivor Rania Al-Baz, which she used to argue that women in Saudi Arabia are consistently mistreated. What is the role of women in the Kingdom today and how is it changing for the better?
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: Unfortunately, domestic violence occurs in virtually every society and culture and Saudi Arabia is no exception. The case of Ms. Al-Baz shocked Saudis as it would everyone else. But it does not reflect on Saudi Arabia as a whole or on the role of women in Saudi Arabia, just as similar cases in the U.S. would not reflect on American society or the role of women in America. Over the past three decades, women in Saudi Arabia have made great strides: over 50% of college students in the Kingdom are women, they own businesses and properties, they work as bankers and doctors. And while they have come a long way, our society is working towards further empowering them in line with our traditions and culture.
DAYTON, OHIO: Sir: As someone who has both lived and worked in the USA, I was wondering what you have found to be the biggest misconception that most Americans have about Saudi Arabia. Thank you.
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: The misconceptions change with time. In the past, the big misconception was that all Saudis are very wealthy. Today the misconception is that Saudis support extremism. There is also a misconception that Saudi Arabia is all about oil; it is not. While oil is an important factor, our economy is fairly diversified. The reality is that Saudi Arabia is a normal country in which people live normal lives. We have our liberals and we have our conservatives. We have those who are tolerant and -- unfortunately -- a very small minority who are less tolerant. We have wealthy Saudis and we have Saudis of modest means, which is similar to what you find in any other country. I could go on forever on this issue, but I'd like to get to the other questions.
ANKENY, IOWA: Americans appreciate the Saudi support in the war against terrorism which has also been directed toward Saudi Arabia. We are told that there are individuals in Saudi Arabia, however, that provide substantial financial support to some terrorist organizations. Is there any truth to this and if so, what measures are being taken to cut off this aid to the terrorists?
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: Saudi Arabia is determined to go after terrorists, those who finance them, and those who condone their actions. We have been vigilant in our war against them and will continue to do so to ensure the safety of our citizens and residents. With regard to combating terror financing, Saudi Arabia has put in place one of the strictest financial controls in the world to ensure that no funds reach evil-doers intentionally or unintentionally. We have frozen bank accounts and punished institutions and individuals suspected of providing financial support to terrorists.
SHELTON, WA: I have noticed that the majority of persons killed by the extremists are followers of Islam. How long can a religion that has no mercy on its own followers last?
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: The killing of the innocent, regardless of the reason, is a violation of the teachings of all religions, including Islam. The individuals who commit these crimes are outside the bounds of their faith.
WASHINGTON, DC: The Saudi stock market has become one of the largest emerging markets in the world. What impact do you believe this will have on Saudi Arabia's economy and efforts to diversify?
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: The Saudi stock market today is the largest emerging market in the world. We expect it to grow as more companies go public. Over half of our population has invested in the stock market. I believe our stock market is an indicator of the overall Saudi economy.
DULUTH, GA: Does Saudi Arabia support Democrats or Republicans?
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: We support Americans.
WASHINGTON, DC: What is Saudi Arabia doing to support a free Iraq?
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: Saudi Arabia is committed to the safety, stability, security, and unity of Iraq. We have provided humanitarian assistance to Iraq as well as financial assistance. We look forward to the day when Iraqis are in full control of their country.
FALLS CHURCH, VA: When will Saudi Arabia permit women to vote and to drive?
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: The chairman of the election commission has stated that he will recommend that women vote in the next elections and I hope that this will occur. With regard to driving, this is an issue that our society is currently debating and, I am sure, will eventually resolve.
ANONYMOUS: How do ordinary Saudi citizens (are they called citizens?) feel about America: our government, our people and our way of life?
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: In general, Saudis feel positive about the American people. Tens of thousands have studied at American educational institutions, and hundreds of thousands have visited the U.S. as tourists, to conduct business, and to obtain medical treatment. Saudis are less positive about certain American policies in the region.
KIFAN, KUWAIT: Wa Salam, why no answer to my questions?
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: Sorry about that, but we have received several hundred questions and I'm trying to make my way through as many as possible. Also, my typing leaves a lot to be desired.
ESCONDIDO, CA: With many insurgent fighters in Iraq coming from surrounding countries, it seems that not all Arab countries are with us against terrorism. What efforts is your country making to encourage your Arab neighbors to get on board with the war on terrorism, and to stem the tide within their own borders?
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: Saudi Arabia is working with all of Iraq's neighbors to ensure that the Iraqis are able to restore security and stability to their country. We have reinforced patrols along our border with Iraq to prevent anyone from crossing it in either direction.
CHAPEL HILL, NC: Do you feel Americans would be safe if they wanted to visit Saudi Arabia and what would you suggest they see?
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: Yes, I do. Saudi Arabia is a vast country with many different aspects to it and depending on one's interests, there are many things to see. For divers, we have one of the most breathtaking coral reefs; for those who enjoy the desert, we have some of the most picturesque deserts in the world. If you enjoy the mountains, we also have some of those. If you are into antiquities, we have well-preserved ruins of some of the earliest civilizations. And if you like shopping, nothing beats our malls!
ANONYMOUS: Is Saudi Arabia financing mosques in the United States to preach intolerance against Americans?
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: No.
ANONYMOUS: What is the Kingdom doing to stop young people from being exposed to extremist religious instruction?
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: We are monitoring our school system to ensure that students are not exposed to deviant thoughts. We are monitoring our mosques to ensure that imams adhere to the teachings of our faith, which is a religion of peace, compassion, tolerance and mercy.
HOUSTON, TEXAS: Saudi Arabia has initiated political reforms with the implementation of municipal elections. What is the long-range strategic goal of the political reform process? What is the final form of governmental structure envisioned at the national level, and what time frame is estimated to achieve it?
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: Our objective is to improve the lot of our citizens and make our government institutions more efficient and responsive. Change and progress are a natural condition in the evolution of nations. The speed of change must be suitable to each society. And Saudi Arabia is no exception. The Saudi government is committed to development and progress in accordance with our faith, culture, and traditions, for the benefit of our citizens.
SYRACUSE, NY: I'm sure you're interested in peace in the Middle East. If so, how can you have peace without the participation of Israel? And how will you get any sort of Israeli participation when Saudi Arabia continues to be the leader of the boycott of Israeli goods?
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: Saudi Arabia has always played a positive role in the search for peace in the Middle East. Crown Prince Abdullah offered a vision for peace which was adopted unanimously at the Arab Summit in Beirut in the spring of 2002 and became known as the Arab Peace Initiative. This offer of peace is fairly simple and straightforward: in exchange for withdrawal from all the territories occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, all Arab countries would make peace with Israel and establish normal relations with it. This peace initiative received strong support from most nations around the world. The offer is still on the table.
ANONYMOUS: We read that Saudis practice a form of Islam called Wahhabism. Does the average Saudi consider himself Wahhabi?
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: Shaikh Muhammad bin Abdul-Wahhab was a religious reformer who lived in the 18th century. That is where the term "Wahhabism" in the West comes from. We do not think of ourselves as "Wahhabis" because we do not believe that designation is accurate. We are Muslims, and Shaikh Muhammad bin Abdul-Wahab preached Islam; he did not invent a new branch. Unfortunately, the term has been mischaracterized and I wish people would read what Shaikh Abdul-Wahhab wrote before rendering judgment about what he stood for.
FLINT, MICHIGAN: Do you think there will be peace with Israel and the Arabs in your lifetime.
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: I hope so, God willing, for the sake of all people in the region.
WASHINGTONPOST.COM: Our hour is up. Mr. Al-Jubeir, thank you for joining us and answering our questions.
ADEL AL-JUBEIR: You're welcome. I wish I had more time to answer all the questions. May I suggest that anyone interested in learning more visit the Saudi Embassy's website at www.saudiembassy.net