2006 Speech

Transcript of Prince Turki Al-Faisal’s address at Georgetown
Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Turki Al-Faisal address “Considerations for a New Age of Diplomacy” at the President’s Classroom Future World Leaders Summit, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, July 23, 2006
  Prince Turki Al-Faisal

Thank you, Dr. Sherman, for the kind introduction. Ladies and Gentlemen: I appreciate you taking the time to join me here today. I am glad to be back at Georgetown University. As you know, I was a student here many years ago; in fact, far longer than I care to admit. Today though, I have been asked to share with you some of my experiences since departing this institution. And I am happy to oblige.

As with many in the Middle East, I have suffered from the age-old curse: “May you live in interesting times.” 

Truly though, I have been honored to hold positions that have allowed me to actively engage many critical issues of the last few decades. As the director of the Kingdom’s main foreign intelligence service, I have had to deal with notorious men like Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. 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 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 students at colleges and universities – Columbia, Kansas State University, the University of Chicago, Harvard, MIT, and most recently Florida International University, and several others. 

I have been listening to American students voice their questions and concerns about relations between the US and my country, but 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 US – 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 ibn Saud, 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 came to energy security, military coordination, or commerce. The two countries have always placed cooperation above all else. The people of Saudi Arabia and the US share goals and principles and beliefs, which outweigh differences and dissimilarities.

Today, deep cooperation between the Kingdom and the US 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, Palestine and Israel, energy, and now, Lebanon – none of these problems can be faced alone. The US cannot deal with these problems without us. And Saudi Arabia cannot deal with them without the US. 

From a historical standpoint, such interdependence and cooperation is unusual. 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.

This is a realization all nations need to make and take seriously, as we turn the corner into a new age of diplomacy.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Since long before Machiavelli wrote The Prince, international diplomacy was the exclusive province of diplomats and national leaders. Realpolitik was practiced over the centuries by such historical figures as Richelieu, Metternich, Bismarck, and Kissinger from the Western perspective; and by Haroon al Rasheed, Abdulrahman al Thalith, Nizam al Mulk, Muhammad al Fatih, Muhammad ibn Saud, Muhammad Ali, Sultan Abdulmajeed, and King Faisal, from the Arab perspective.  In those days, it was the diplomat who played political chess with nation-states, balancing and maneuvering one against the other to gain political advantage or balance.

But today – in the Information Age – the old rules no longer apply. We now live in a world in which national borders are blurred, hierarchies have been flattened, and ambiguity about our allies is heightened. Now, the battles we fight have no clear front lines. The strife and conflict that exist throughout the world overlap national borders and ethnic divisions, and even cross oceans. As we all know too well, in an increasingly smaller world the stability or security of a nation far away can impact us all significantly at home.

Suddenly, the diplomat is being manipulated by the individual. And the state is being challenged by the network. 

Thanks to satellite television and the Internet, among many other technological advances, anyone with access to a computer terminal can now produce messages instead of just receiving them. Individuals are empowered as never before. They can make an enormous impact on the collective. As the American President John F. Kennedy once told us, “One person can change the world.” But we need to recognize this can go both ways – for good or for bad. 

Nations are no longer the ones defining politics and working to building influence.  Terrorists and terrorist networks throughout the world are now able to influence the terms of international diplomacy and the fates of peoples and nations. They don’t submit themselves to any laws or rules of conduct. Their causes are personal, and their aims are desperate. 

This has caused the rules of international diplomacy and politics to have changed – not completely, but significantly. There are new battles every day in this era of complexity for the attention, affinity, and loyalty of the people throughout the world. And the interdependency between the nations of the world has increased in the face of this challenge. Nations can no longer define their strength solely by individual might; they must define it by the level of cooperation they can achieve to reach their goals. 

Ladies and Gentlemen:

A perfect example of the need for greater cooperation – the need for this new diplomacy – among the nations of the world has unfolded before us in the Middle East. The tragedy that is occurring in Lebanon is not going to resolve itself. It will take the United Nations, and powers like the United States, to work with regional players to find a resolution. 

But in truth, the situation in Lebanon is but an outgrowth of a deeper problem – a problem that is in dire need of the world’s attention. It is an outgrowth of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Here we have a decades-old issue that is continuously exacerbated by competing agendas – by the intemperance of leadership on both sides – by the malevolence of terrorism – by ill-thought-out military actions – and by surrendering hope to extremists on both sides.

This conflict is a wound that has not been allowed to heal, because it is forever being bled. It has in turn become more than a conflict; it has become an excuse. It is an excuse for terrorists to justify their aims. It is an excuse to stir anti-American sentiment in the region. It is an excuse for extremists to create diplomatic havoc in the world community.  For these reasons it is, in fact, why global diplomacy has changed in this new age. It is also, therefore, why the world must look to this current crisis and rejuvenate its efforts to find a lasting peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. 

The situation in Lebanon should not be allowed to be a distraction from the fact that we all know what the solution to this deeper conflict is. The Palestinians know it; the Israelis know it; the Americans know it; the Saudis know it. It is a two-state solution, primarily dealing with a piece of territory that will have to be settled between these two peoples. 

And we cannot forget that earlier this spring for the first time in nearly four decades, the people of Palestine and the people of Israel were in agreement that a two state solution should move forward. I’ve seen polls – recent polls – that show that the majority of both Palestinians and Israelis still desire a peaceful settlement. 

And since peace is manifestly in the interests of the region and the world at large, it is that much more incumbent on leading powers, including Saudi Arabia in the region, and the United States in the world, to be consistent – and insistent – in moving parties ahead towards the known outlines of a durable settlement. 

To this end, Saudi Arabia continues to stand with the Arab League in supporting all efforts for a speedy end to the Israeli aggression against Lebanon and Palestine, an end to the violence, and for the prevalence of dialogue to ensue. 

Furthermore, we still believe that the peace plan put forth by then Crown Prince, now King, Abdullah at the Arab Summit in Beirut in March 2002 offers the most practical and reasonable solution to the greater conflict at hand.

The Abdullah Plan states that if Israel and the Palestinians can find a peaceful territorial compromise along the lines of UN resolution 242 and 338, under which Israel would withdraw from the lands it occupied in the 1967 War, including Jerusalem, and make peace with a Palestinian state, then the Arab world would not only accept Israel’s existence, but have full diplomatic relations with it. 

This plan has generated worldwide support because it goes to the heart of the matter – land for peace – and defines it in terms acceptable to both sides.  It incorporated virtually everything Israel has been asking for since the beginning of the conflict, without abandoning any legitimate Palestinian rights. 

The only thing left is for reasonable minds on both sides to look at this historic offer objectively and without emotions, and to work to put it in place.

Ladies and Gentlemen: In this new age of diplomacy – in which the problems of one nation or one people are the problems of the world – it is imperative we truly consider how our political decisions impact the people, not just of our particular nations but those of the global community.  Because it is their well being that is ultimately affected. And it is within their power to create change.

Will this conflict be resolved tomorrow, next year, or a hundred years from now? I don't know. This is where you all come in.  

As future leaders, these are the challenges 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. Your decisions will potentially affect the peace or the aggression of not just diplomats or governments, but of peoples who live across borders and across oceans.

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.”

As students, I wish only that you continue to learn and use your minds to resolve the problems of the world. Thomas Jefferson once stated: “Peace and friendship with all mankind is our wisest policy.” 

A final thought for those who will engage in diplomacy. Diplomats, today, do very little diplomacy. The king, the president, and the prime minister pick up the phone and talk to each other; in fact, performing diplomacy. And other times, they send emissaries. We, the diplomats, report events, offer ideas to our bosses, give visas, and do public relations. But, without us, the world will not go round. We are still a necessary species in the evolution of diplomacy.

God bless you, and thank you again for the invitation to speak here today.