Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining me here today. Thank you, Dr. Berkman for the kind introduction. It is a pleasure to be here in Florida. I have received a very warm welcome since arriving.
I greatly appreciate Florida International University for inviting us to their facilities. This is certainly an impressive institution. It not only has the largest school for accounting in this country, F.I.U. also possesses a highly regarded undergraduate program for international business, as well as a highly ranked M.B.A. program. I have also noticed F.I.U. has a long list of prestigious alumni – from two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Liz Balmaseda, to Olympic medal winner Tayna Lawrence.
Perhaps most prominent among the graduates of this university is Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. She has made many great strides for both women and the Hispanic community here in the United States. I am familiar with her work, as she is an important leader in Congress on many issues dealing with the Middle East and U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia. I am hoping to call on her when I get back to Washington.
Indeed, F.I.U. should be proud of all of its achievements, especially for being a relatively young university. You have been around for almost 35 years. You have seen impressive growth during this short period of time.
Coming from Saudi Arabia, I can appreciate F.I.U.’s history and development. Saudi Arabia – comparatively speaking – is a fairly new country. But, in a very short period of time, we’ve accomplished a lot. We have built a modern nation where once traveled Bedouins across empty desert.
The oil boom years of the 1970s created wealth for Saudi Arabia, and the wealth was used to develop our county. Infant mortality rates dropped significantly, and life-expectancy increased among Saudis. The government put in place a social welfare system that took care of our citizens from the cradle to the grave: free education, free health care, interest-free mortgages for first-time homebuyers, interest-free loans for small businesses, and subsidies for farmers.
Throughout the 1980s, we continued to build our infrastructure – our roads, schools, and cities. In the 1990s, the Kingdom began undertaking significant reforms, including economic reforms, which have made our economy more open and transparent. This has culminated in our accession to the World Trade Organization last year.
Today, the Kingdom is providing its 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, where they are receiving a world-class education, making friends, and building new bridges of understanding.
Political reforms are also being implemented to increase citizen participation, such as last year’s elections for municipal councils. More elections are planned for the future in order to give our people a more direct say in the decisions that affect them.
All of these changes are significant given the timeframe. What is important to consider is that throughout this short but extensive growth period, Saudi Arabia has remained a pillar of stability.
As the mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, once said: “The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order.” I believe the Kingdom has been able to achieve this. But it has only come as a result of our efforts to actively work for peace and stability – not just within, but beyond our borders.
Of course, our efforts have not been just for ourselves. Over the years, we have served humanity because of our place as the home of the Islamic faith, because of our strategic geopolitical location, because of our energy reserves, and because we are a full, contributing member of the global community.
Perhaps one of the most enduring examples of this was our move to establish a relationship with the United States in the 1950s to combat communism. What began with the construction of the U.S. airbase in Dhahran, which hosted American forces as part of the containment of the former Soviet Union, grew into a partnership to ensure global security and stability. This has included a series of cooperative efforts to address political and military issues in the Middle East, as well as in Africa and South America.
Saudi Arabia stood with the U.S. during the 1950s and 1960s when radicalism in the Arab World threatened to lead a socialist revolution throughout the region.
When the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam, Saudi Arabia stepped in quietly to provide aid to anti-Communist movements in countries that were falling rapidly into the pro-Soviet sphere: Zaire, Somalia, Angola, and Nicaragua. Most importantly, we both supported the Mujahideen in Afghanistan during 1980s, contributing to the end of the Cold War.
Saudi Arabia places great value on our contributions to the defeat of Godless communism. Today, the Kingdom continues to cooperate with its international partners, particularly the United States, for the betterment of humanity. The Kingdom is working towards peace and stability at home, in our region, and around the world.
Currently, there are many challenges out there – economic growth, energy security, the war on terrorism, and Palestinian independence from Israeli occupation, to name a few. Of all the nations in the world, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. are two of the most important when it comes to affecting positive change to the world’s most difficult issues. Indeed, we have come far and done a lot as partners – from fighting communism to fighting terrorism. For our own good and for the good of the world, it is incumbent on our nations to continue to face these challenges together.
But in order for us to do so, we need to maintain understanding between our people and our governments. Saudis and Americans desire the same things from life – peace and prosperity and security. Ensuring an understanding about this has allowed our relationship to flourish for more than 70 years. But we need to continue to foster understanding.
The people of Miami can appreciate this need perhaps better than anyone else. This city is at the virtual crossroads of North, South, and Central America, as well as the Caribbean. You understand the need for tolerance and patience between people and cultures. You understand how people who have very different customs and traditions can work together, because they share the same goals.
With continued understanding, both Saudi Arabia and the United States can achieve new levels of peace and stability throughout the world.
Thank you again for this opportunity, and may peace be upon you.