Ms. Joyce, thank you. Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for including me in this discussion today. Since we are only given so much time, I will be sure to keep my remarks brief.
The mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once said, quote: “The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order.”
If we apply this understanding to the Middle East, we realize that the path of progress is an incredibly fine line to walk. For the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, they are not only striving to balance internal change and order, but they are also trying to encourage stability in the region and in the world, both politically and economically – as a result of a desire to maintain their relative stability and collective economic influence.
And given the confluence of global issues in our region – the war on terror, the war in Iraq, the Palestine-Israeli conflict, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the crisis in Lebanon, and Afghanistan’s struggle for stability, to name a few – this is not only a fine line, it is a hard road.
As the largest member of the GCC, Saudi Arabia has, perhaps, the greatest role in promoting progress in areas beyond its borders. Our energy reserves, the significance of our geopolitical position, and our place in the Islamic world, as the home of the Two Holy Mosques, also instill an enormous sense of responsibility on us – one that we readily accept.
Saudi Arabia has tried to be as deliberate as possible in maintaining the balance between change and order, first at home and then abroad.
To address the challenges of the global economy and community, and to meet the evolving needs of our people – as all countries must do – Saudi Arabia has adopted a process of gradual reform and modernization. It is important to note that this process reflects the will and pace of our people and is consistent with our customs. With our GCC partners, we have promulgated economic, trade and fiscal agreements that will lead to an economic union by the year 2009.
Furthermore, for more than 20 years now, we have been liberalizing trade policies, enacting new regulatory laws, increasing transparency, and opening up our economy to foreign investment. Saudi Arabia has been working diligently to provide as many opportunities as possible for its economy to grow and for its people to succeed and prosper. This is evinced most clearly by our accession to the World Trade Organization last year.
One of the key aspects of our economic progress has been to diversify our economy away from oil. As we all know, the oil market is cyclical. For the past couple of years, it has clearly been bullish. But, as all GCC countries are aware, the potential exists for the market to turn around – as it did in the early 1980s, and as it was in the late 1990s. For this, we must be prepared.
For the GCC nations, our recent financial surpluses provide an opportunity for our countries to build their economies, infrastructures and economic ties with other nations for the prosperity of their people. Saudi Arabia’s recent agreement with the UAE to build an economic city is an example of this type of linkage at the highest level.
At the same time, the Kingdom is also taking steps to meet global energy demand and to maintain stability in the energy market. We’re investing some $50 billion to expand our production capacity, and currently we have half a dozen new megaprojects in various stages of development. These will add some 3 million barrels of oil per day by 2009. In total, when accounting for natural declines, this is intended to bring our maximum sustainable production capacity to about 12.5 million barrels per day.
By being thorough and thoughtful in our planning, we are working to balance both the needs of our people and the needs of the global economy. In this modern era, it is not contradictory to accomplish both goals. Indeed, in this increasingly small world, our neighbors' peace and prosperity is as important as our own.
This brings me back to the broader Middle East. Saudi Arabia, alongside our partners in the GCC and in the global community – including the United States – continues to try to find paths to progress for the various and complex issues of the region.
In each circumstance – in Palestine, in Lebanon, in Iraq, for example – Saudi Arabia is striving to maintain that balance between order and change. But for us, to successfully maintain order, the pursuit of lasting change needs to be as considerate of tradition as it is of the future. It must be deliberate to be real. As we know from balancing the tribal, religious, and local issues within our own country, bold experimentation does not always pay off.
With this in mind, we are also working with the countries of the OIC to promote tolerance, eradicate disease and blunt poverty. At the Islamic summit conference in Makkah, last December, King Abdullah proposed a ten year program to meet these challenges, and this was agreed to by the leaders of the Muslim countries.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Consideration, understanding, and patience are the watchwords that will allow stable countries in the region – such as those in the GCC – see the spread of security and prosperity, instead of creeping instability across this Middle East.
When looking ahead, King Abdullah continues to express hope for the people of the Middle East. But he also stresses that only through cooperation will we find enduring resolution. While the path to progress may be a long road, at least we can walk it together.
Ladies and Gentlemen: thank you for your time.