Thank you for inviting me to speak before you today on behalf of Saudi Arabia.
I am very glad to be in attendance at this important conference to discuss the issues facing the Middle East. Conferences like these have the potential to bear new ideas to help the world avoid conflict and promote peace.
I have been reading a book called 1776, in which General George Washington distinguishes himself by avoiding as much bloodshed as possible. In similar fashion, other distinguished military leaders throughout history have been the primary peacemakers that brought seemingly intractable military conflict to peaceful resolution. Eisenhower in Europe, MacArthur in Japan, Sadat in Egypt, Rabin in Israel, DeGaulle in Algeria.
The type of discourse encouraged by the International Peace Academy gives me great hope that we may again achieve harmony where long there has been conflict, both in the Middle East region and in the global community.
Ladies and Gentlemen, since the very birth of civilization, the Middle East has been a major crossroads of the world. Trade routes through the region have been crucial for economic exchange from all continents. And, perhaps most significantly, this land saw the birthplace of the world’s three monotheistic religions.
While great benefits to humanity have resulted over the ages because of the Middle East’s geographic position, our region today is at the crossroads of many of the political trends of the world. And certainly, the mixing and interacting of these ideas have often occurred in very violent ways.
But it is important that we remember that conflicts that we are dealing with today did not grow inherently from the lands of the Middle East. Rather, because of the way the world’s problems have come together in this region, and the result of big power ambitions, the Middle East has played a very critical, very pivotal role in the affairs of countries all over the globe.
Saudi Arabia is fortunate to be a stabilizing force in this region and in the world, as Saudi King Abdullah has acknowledged: “We are part of the international community, and whatever happens there we are influenced by, though we influence it in return. Our position is to maintain friendship and cooperation with all....”
So this evening, I want to discuss how Saudi Arabia is cooperating with its neighbors in the region and members of the global community to ensure that, as we work towards a more stable and prosperous Middle East, and in turn a more stable and prosperous world, we are not overlooking the needs of the people whose lives we are trying to make better.
During the last century, as we tried to solve the global issues that intersect in this region, the world had many times lost sight of the local issues that have been fueling the larger conflicts.
The divvying up of the region for oil, for influence, and for profit in the immediate aftermath of World War One initiated a great deal of discontent. The decisions that were made by foreign powers incorporated little understanding of the historical and cultural, and most importantly, religious context of the region.
The Middle East was again affected by external powers after the Second World War through the partitioning of lands, the struggle of nations growing from their roots in colonialism, and later, some of the more heated battles of the Cold War.
Indeed, as I have reviewed the agenda for this conference, I see that the implications of these issues will not go unaddressed. But as we discuss the merits of nation building, as we talk about frameworks for peace, and new ways of negotiating, and how to cooperate to a greater extent on economic issues, let us not forget that at the heart of all of our efforts and all our discussion lies the people of the Middle East – the men and women and children of each nation who live each day with these issues.
We need to listen to the people. They are the ones who will stand up for peace or be the victims of the next act of violence based on how the world’s problems play out in their back yards.
And today this realization is more important than ever, because we face another world war – the global war against terrorism. And again, the face of the Middle East is being altered because of it. But this time there are no traditional frontlines. The grounds for these battles are in the hearts and minds of the people.
And unlike previous wars, our work to repair the damage will not wait until the conflict is over. In fact, how we win this war is truly not only by defeating new enemies, but also by healing old wounds. So we must bring people together, provide them with a path to peace and prosperity, and open them up to understanding.
It is for this reason that Saudi Arabia continues to work closely with its global partners, including the United States, to establish frameworks for peace to resolve the conflicts that exist in the Middle East. These frameworks are based on the needs of the people. And we are hopeful that by ensuring that there is an accepted process in place, these initiatives can gather momentum with time and achieve the peace we seek. As the Arab saying goes: “The beginning of a deluge is a drop of rain.”
If we look at the Arab-Israeli conflict, for example, Saudi Arabia wants to ensure that there is a calm, deliberate approach to allow the peace process to move forward.
There are many concerns with Hamas, but the world community must accept the fact that the Palestinian people have elected a new leadership. So, we have to deal with that issue on the basis that this is the choice of the Palestinian people.
The reality is that until the Palestinians finally have their own homeland, where they can live in peace, this conflict will remain not just a tragedy but provide terrorists with an excuse for their terrible actions throughout the world.
Saudi Arabia believes that the adoption of the Arab Peace Plan adopted at the Beirut Summit in 2002 represents the only concrete solution to the longest conflict in modern history. We hope that both the Palestinian and the Israeli governments will endorse this plan, and take all the necessary steps to implement it.
Another example is Iraq. There, Saudi Arabia has again taken steps with the Arab League to promote a common future for Iraqis, in which the country’s unity and territorial integrity is preserved, and in which every Iraqi faction is treated justly.
It is in this spirit that Saudi Arabia encourages a continuation of the comprehensive national dialogue among all Iraqis. The first round was held in Cairo late last year, and we hope that the second round will be held in Baghdad soon, following the formation of an Iraqi government.
Of course, even where we have seen progress, as we have in Afghanistan, we must still support these people as they try to build a stable nation. The Afghan people have fought hard against their aggressors and continue to work to ensure a lasting peace. As we witness the first signs of positive development, we must encourage the emergence of a national government and programs to disarm illegal groups.
Ladies and Gentlemen, each of these areas presents its own complicated situation that requires understanding and, certainly, patience. The delicate issues of ethnic strife, religious tolerance, and national identity, are powerful enough to inflame the passions of any person.
If worldwide audiences could see what millions of Arabs see nightly on their television screens, they would understand the overwhelming emotional impact that turmoil like that created by the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has on the ordinary man and woman in the Middle East.
But all too often what is on television or in the news is too one sided to offer any understanding. Much of our discourse has become fragmented in today’s “sound bite” world of 24-hour news. And more has been unfortunately written or spoken with purely political intent, which aggravates already sensitive people.
Although modern technology – like cell phones and the internet and satellite television – provide us with unparalleled opportunities to reach out and communicate with one another, people need to use them responsibly.
The world that demands stability in the Middle East cannot at the same time provoke hostilities, whether it is inadvertent or not. The world needs to be aware of the issues that are sensitive, because an irritated wound will not heal.
An unfortunate example of this occurred earlier this year with the publishing of certain cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Personally, I found the cartoons to be despicable and reprehensible. All rights, including free speech, come with responsibility and an obligation to respect our fellow human beings. Those that published those cartoons claim that they may not have broken any laws, but they certainly shattered any moral code of conduct.
However – no matter the level of profanity of what the cartoons depicted, those in the Muslim community who reacted with violence were unjustified. We must calmly appeal for greater cultural understanding and respect for what is sacred.
Throughout the global community, we must be working to promote greater understanding among people. And indeed, we in the Middle East need to do our part as well.
In Saudi Arabia, we have initiated a public awareness campaign on billboards, and television and in schools that calls for tolerance and moderation. We have also overhauled our education system by bringing in new curricula that emphasizes critical thinking, and we are investing heavily in new schools and programs. And we are sending Saudi students out into the world on scholarships to receive their college education. Some 6,000 are already signed up to come to the U.S. alone. These students will be going out into the world to build the bridges of understanding, which we need.
Within the Muslim world, King Abdullah has called upon members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to commit to a ten-year strategic plan of reforms, which are marked by moderation, modernization, and tolerance.
This is progress, and I am very hopeful, as I have always been. The state of mankind is not to exist in isolation or in fear or despair of one another. As it is revealed in the Quran: “Oh mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other.”
Although we have difficult challenges ahead of us, I am optimistic.
Right now, ladies and gentlemen, economies in the Middle East are growing and exhibit the confidence of the people. Prosperity is spreading. We see new levels of cooperation in many areas – and certainly within the Muslim world. And we are seeing many successes in the global war on terrorism.
We know the problems we face today will not be solved over night, but if we work to keep the solutions in place, they will eventually be reconciled. And if we pay attention to the basic needs of the people, we will avoid adding to tomorrow’s conflicts as well.
Humanity is now certain about the importance of peace and the advantage of international understanding. Let us continue to promote cooperation and strengthen our collective will to bring about the hopes of all nations, in order for our people to prosper and benefit from mutual exchange.
As we say in Arabic – ashkurukum shukran jazeelan – thank you all very much – and Barak Allah Feekum – and God bless you all.