Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Mr. Fenton, thank you for the kind introduction. And thank you for welcoming me to your fine city.
Since becoming Ambassador a little over a year ago, I have traveled widely throughout the US. In fact, I have visited almost 20 states, but this is the first time I will have come to Delaware. In keeping with your state’s heritage, I understand, Delaware should have been the “first state” I visited. But I am glad to finally be here.
This morning, I had the privilege of visiting the Tower Hill School, where I spoke with students about the Middle East. As I’m sure you know, these are very bright, very capable young adults. We should all be encouraged by the fact that they will be among the leaders of tomorrow.
I first came to the United States when I was 14 years old. I came to attend a high school very similar to the Tower Hill School. After that, I attended college at Georgetown. This has provided me with a great deal of exposure to the US and the American way of life. And this is not unique to me. Over the years, literally hundreds of thousands of Saudis have traveled to the United States seeking education or healthcare, to conduct business, or simply to visit.
The friendships and partnerships that have formed since well before our governments had official relations are lasting, because – at the bottom of it – Saudis and Americans are very similar to each other. We’re plainspoken and straightforward, and we both believe in the importance of faith and family. We want the same things for us and for our children that you do: security, opportunity, good health and education, and a bright future.
Today, Saudi Arabia and the US are doing a lot to maintain relations between our governments and our people. Certainly, we’ve gone through ups and downs. We’ve gone through difficult periods and easy periods, and it will continue to be this way. But this is the nature of any relationship, whether between friends or between countries. Ultimately, we always return to seeing the real reason why we stick it out with one another: Quite simply, we work well together.
So for more than 60 years we’ve had a mutually beneficial relationship, and I can proudly say that it is a relationship not just of oil for security but, more broadly speaking, a relationship of people to people.
If you look at the Kingdom today, it is a country that is moving forward at great speed economically and socially, and even politically – despite what some people say.
We have over $650 billion worth of investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia over the next 15 years, and American business should take advantage of that. In December we officially joined the World Trade Organization. This is providing us with great opportunities to increase foreign investment and to diversify our economy so it will not rely so much on oil.
We are focusing on growing our industries, such as information technology, financial services, and tourism, industries with which you are all familiar. We are also creating centers of commerce and business, like the King Abdullah Economic City. This $26 billion mega-project will be a next generation center of finance, healthcare, and technological development. It will be like a Wilmington, Delaware on the Red Sea, if you will. And similar to Delaware, we can also boast that we are home to “tax-free shopping.” Of course, this is because the Kingdom as a whole is tax free.
I invite all of you to come and visit. Recently, Saudi Arabia passed new laws that ease obtaining a visa for businesspeople. So please, if you can, come see for yourselves our growth and opportunities.
And while economic reform is a key driver in our society, we are also pursuing an agenda of social and political reform. We are providing our citizens with the training to succeed in the global economy. We have undertaken a multi-year modernization program of our education system, including teacher training and new textbooks and curricula. Through a scholarship program, we are sending our students to be educated around the globe.
Many of our students will be coming to the United States. More than 10,000 are already studying here. They will not only be receiving a world-class education; they will be forming the next generation of friendships and bonds between Saudis and Americans. They will be the true ambassadors.
Saudi Arabia has also undertaken a strategic multi-year program to improve the level of education in the Kingdom to be competitive internationally, and this program is emphasizing critical thinking and math and science, which are important to success in the global economy.
Our municipal councils have now all been officially formed and have begun to meet. Members of these councils were elected to office last year. This is an important step as the Saudi people learn how the electoral process works, and we will continue to expand citizen participation.
These developments, which are only a few of many, are not just for the Saudi people. We live in a global community, so if we are to benefit ourselves, we are benefiting those in the world with whom we interact. And in particular, we interact a great deal with the US.
If you look at the problems we’re facing today – the war on terrorism, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, energy, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – none of these problems can be faced alone. We must work together to find solutions to these challenges.
Saudi Arabia and the United States must cooperate with each other to redefine our relationship as world events evolve. As Ambassador to your great country, I am privileged to contribute to developing this relationship.
Now, if I can help contribute a bit more to your own understanding, I would be glad to answer any questions that you may have.
Thank you very much.