2006 Speech

Saudi Ambassador addresses Town Hall Los Angeles
Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Turki Al-Faisal address on “Saudi Education in the Global Community” to Town Hall Los Angeles, California, March 21, 2006

JON GOODMAN:  I’m Jon Goodman.  I’m president of Town Hall Los Angeles, and Town Hall Los Angeles works, whether the microphones do or not.    I’m delighted to welcome you today.  A few housekeeping items.  Take a deep breath.  Second deep breath.  Please, take a moment, ladies and gentlemen, to turn off your cell phones.  No matter how many times I announce this, no matter how many times I put an announcement on the table, I guarantee you some Bach cantata will be ringing in about five minutes. 

Second, for today’s program – and thank you again, ladies and gentlemen, for being so patient.  This is technology strikes again.  So I’ve warned you about cell phones.  We now have microphones and speakers.  Today we will be using note cards for question and answer.  So you will see on the table there are pencils and note cards, and Town Hall staff will be around the room.  You have only to lift up a card in your hand and the Town Hall staff will get it from you.

Now let me start the program.  A special welcome today to members of the delegation from the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia; a special welcome to Abdullah Al-Harthi, consul general of Saudi Arabia, and Tomas Rosander, consul general of Switzerland, to Lourdes Saab, deputy chief of protocol for the county of Los Angeles, and Elga Sharpe, chief of protocol for the city of Los Angeles.

It is my pleasure now to turn over this podium to the chair of the meeting, James McNulty, who is chairman and chief executive officer of Parson’s Corporation, a member of the board, and former chairman of the board of Town Hall Los Angeles, a friend and colleague – Jim McNulty.

JAMES MCNULTY:  We are truly honored and delighted to have as our guest and speaker today Prince Turki Al-Faisal, who is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States.  Prince Turki was born in Makkah, Saudi Arabia in 1945.  He received his primary and elementary education at Taif Model School, and from there he came to the United States where he completed his secondary high school education at Lawrenceville Academy in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.  Following that he pursued his undergraduate studies at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.

In 1973, Prince Turki was appointed to the Royal Council of Advisors in Saudi Arabia, and in 1977 he became the director general of the General Intelligence Directorate in Saudi Arabia, which focuses primarily on external and international intelligence gathering. 

He held that post until 2001, whereupon he was appointed by King Fahd to be the Ambassador to the United Kingdom and Ireland.  He held that position until 2005 in July when he was appointed to become the Ambassador to the United States.  And in September he presented his credentials to Secretary Rice, and in December presented his credentials to President Bush.

He’s also involved in a number of cultural and social activities.  He is one of the founders of the King Faisal Foundation and is on the board of directors of the King Faisal Research Study for Islamic Cultural Affairs.  He is also co-chairman and a member of the C-100 Group of the World Economic Forum, which focuses on bettering relationships and understanding between the Islamic world and the non-Islamic world. 

It gives me great pleasure to welcome to Town Hall the Ambassador from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United States, Prince Turki Al-Faisal.

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL:  (Speaks in Arabic.)  Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. McNulty, Ms. Goodman – (unintelligible) – thank you for this kind invitation to speak to you.

I haven’t seen such a big crowd since I watched the Oscars the other night.  But it’s a great privilege to be in Los Angeles, the home of many Saudis, as many of you know, and especially on the topic that I’m going to be speaking about.

I would also like to thank Harry Hathaway, the chairman of the California Saudi Alliance, and his law firm, Fulbright & Jaworski, for making this luncheon possible.

“Go west, young man" is a known saying in American culture.  Saudis, while visiting the US throughout the years, have definitely done that.  And while no longer a young man, I am here to keep up that tradition.

Saudi Arabia's connection to the state of California goes back decades – in fact, farther back than when official relations existed between our governments.  It was geologists from Chevron Corporation who found our oil back in the 1930s.  And since then, Saudis have maintained many connections here, whether for business, travel or for education.

Perhaps this is one of the strongest ties we have here:  Many Saudi citizens have received their education at schools, colleges and universities all over California.  Some of them have even gone on to hold ministerial positions in Saudi Arabia.  During my trip here I am to visit a few of these institutions, including the University of Southern California, which I visited this morning, where in 1976 the King Faisal Chair in Islamic Studies was endowed.  This professorship was created in the name of the late King Faisal, whose mission it was to ensure all Saudis had access to a proper education, as well as to an expanding horizon of cultural understanding.

The late King Faisal once said during an interview with American television that he hoped in the future Saudi Arabia would be a wellspring of understanding, culture and knowledge, not just for the Arab and Muslim world, but for all of humanity.  Even though King Faisal passed away some 30 years ago, his hope for Saudi Arabia is the legacy of his family and it carries on.

Shortly after his passing, my brothers and sisters and I founded the King Faisal Foundation to invest in education as he would have wanted.  The foundation has made many contributions in three decades, but one of its most significant programs has come to fruition.  The first privately funded nonprofit college for women in Saudi Arabia, Effat College, is now five years old.  And today – (applause).  Thank you.  And today, along with several international partners, including Americans, we are in the process of establishing the first truly private, non-profit Saudi university in science and technology. The Al-Faisal University, as it is known, was formally chartered in 2004 and will open in 2007.  This will be nothing less than a world-class, multi-national university to educate the next generation of Saudi leaders with an international curriculum.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is the future of Saudi Arabia.

Today, we are making investments in education to bring our citizens to the forefront of the global community.  This is our goal, and what I would like to share with you today. 

It goes without saying that Saudi Arabia is blessed with oil, but we recognize that it is a finite resource.  We know our best and infinite resource is our people, and in order to diversify our economy and improve the quality of life of our citizens, we need to educate and train our youth in new areas where they can develop, grow and innovate.

King Abdullah wants our citizens to make the types of contributions to humanity that the Arab world once did during its Golden Age.  In fields such as astronomy, mathematics, agriculture, medicine and architecture, Arab scholars once provided the world with advances that form many of the underpinnings of the modern age.

For Saudi Arabia, there is certainly work ahead, but we have solid foundation because we have already come a long way from the days when the Kingdom had few if any schools as you would know them today.

I know when the late King Faisal and my mother Queen Effat had children, they realized, as their children grew up, that they wanted them to have a good education.  They desired for their children an education that was beyond what was considered acceptable at the time, which was at the traditional local schools throughout the Kingdom.  Instead, they decided to build a school that would not only be for their children, but would be for the children of the society in general.

So in 1942, my parents built a school in Taif, a city in the mountains in Saudi Arabia, which, when I attended, had a plaque at the top of the entrance that said: “The Model School for Boys and Girls."  As you can imagine, this was quite a revolutionary step in Saudi Arabia in those days.  Regrettably, I must admit that I did not graduate from the Model School if Taif.  I was shipped off at age 14 to continue my studies here in America at a boarding school in New Jersey. 

But I recall that a year after I left in 1960, the Model School moved from Taif to Jeddah, where new modern facilities were constructed. I'll never forget when the late Queen Effat and the late King Faisal were looking over the plans of the new school, which included a planetarium – this did not even exist in any of the universities in the Middle East at that time – I was telling myself, well, if they are building the school here so well, why are they shipping me off to America?

What my parents wanted for me then – a world-class education and exposure to and an understanding of the diversity of the world – is exactly what the Saudi government wants for its citizens now.  We have committed to three critical steps to ensure this.

First, Saudi Arabia is upgrading its own educational system.  The Kingdom has reviewed all of its education practices and materials, and has removed any element that is   inconsistent with the needs of a modern education.  Not only have we eliminated what might be perceived as intolerance from old text books that were in our system, we have implemented a comprehensive internal revision and modernization plan.  New curricula emphasize critical thinking, math, and science, and these curricula also emphasize the teaching of true Islamic values and the positive skills necessary for good citizenship and productivity, as well as how to safeguard community in peace, the environment, health and human rights.  In every level of education, from grade school to high school to college, the government has gone so far as to sponsor lectures that promote moderation and tolerance.  Even kindergarteners are made aware of the importance of tolerance and peace.

Education, of course, does not end with schooling, and these messages further extend to society as a whole. There are messages promoting peace on ATM receipts, billboards, signs at sporting events, and even on radio and television programming.  These are all dedicated to informing our citizens that intolerance, violence and extremism are not a part of our Islamic faith or Saudi culture or heritage and traditions.

There is no place for intolerance in a world where cooperation is the only key to success.  This is why we are taking steps to ensure our education system keeps pace with the demands of our citizens, our economy, and those of the world community.

Second, Saudi Arabia is heavily investing in its educational system to prepare its   citizens for life and work in a modern, global economy.  For the year ahead, Saudi Arabia has allocated 26 percent of the state budget to general and higher education, as well as to technical and vocational training. And over the next five years, the Kingdom will be building some 2,600 new schools, 50 new technical colleges, and more than 100 training institutes to prepare Saudis for the Kingdom's recent accession to the World Trade Organization.  This is in addition to a number of new universities being built.

Preparing our workforce for the opportunities and challenges ahead is the purpose of many new government programs.  In May, for example, the Ministry of Labor will be conducting a forum to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experience between professionals and those responsible for the development of human resources.  Professional development opportunities are also expanding for women, who actually comprise more than half of the students who graduate from college and graduate school.

Recently, Kristina Johnson, the dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University in North Carolina, delivered the first lecture at Effat College's opening of the new electrical and computer-engineering program.  That’s an example of where international education is already in place.

Women are an important part of Saudi society, and they are becoming an increasingly critical part of Saudi economic development.  In fact, women now have been elected onto the boards of professional organizations, including the Saudi Engineers Council, the Saudi Journalists Association, and the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry.  Who knows where they will go next.  These women, who have the support of their peers and communities, are reaching new levels every day.

And third, ladies and gentlemen, Saudi Arabia is taking steps to broaden the horizons of its citizens and emphasize the value of cultural exchange.  The first words to be revealed in the holy Qu'ran were – and between quotation marks – “Read – read in the name of thy creator.”  And an ancient Arab proverb says: “What is learned in youth is carved in stone.”  This applies to the values by which we make our most basic decisions in life, as well as to how we work with our neighbors when issues arise among us.

King Abdullah is currently promoting a student scholarship program aimed at impacting the concept – this concept at the most basic level – human interaction.  Saudi students are being sent to attend colleges and universities abroad to learn, make friends, and experience foreign cultures.  The Saudi government has already offered 10,000 students full four-year scholarships, with most going to the United States.  There are almost 500 students alone who signed up to come to California.

Saudi Arabia has long been successful with building relationships this way.  For example, if we look at the long history between Saudi Arabia and the US, we certainly have had our ups and downs.  We’ve gone through difficult periods and easy periods, and I think 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, and that is because, quite simply, we work well together. 

For more than 60 years we’ve had a mutually beneficial relationship, and I proudly say that it is a relationship not just for oil, for security, but more broadly speaking, a relationship of people to people.  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.  This has made all the difference in bridging the gaps of understanding between our cultures when difficulties have arisen.  As well, thousands of Americans have traveled to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to live and to work there.

When taken together, these three steps form the basis of a world-class education. We’re promoting cooperation.  We’re giving our citizens the tools and knowledge to succeed.  And we’re letting our youth explore the world and form friendships that will benefit them down the road.  If our citizens possess the skills and understanding to compete effectively with their global peers, then they will be active contributors to the global community.  They will be promoters of peace and tolerance throughout the world.
And perhaps then we will become the wellspring of understanding, education, and culture for humanity that we aspire to be.  Thank you, and may God’s peace be upon you.

MS. GOODMAN:  Thank you.  Thank you.  As we discussed, I now have a handful of cards.

PRINCE TURKI:  Yes ma’am.

MS. GOODMAN:  So, Ambassador, if you will bear with us.  I’m going to combine – ladies and gentlemen, many of your questions are in the same areas.  So if you hear a question that isn’t actually verbatim, sometimes I’m combining them.  The first question – a combination of several – regards not only the Saudi Arabian attitude toward, but also OPEC’s attitude toward alternative fuel.  Would you – (audio break) – that please?

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL:  Saudi Arabia, ladies and gentlemen, gets about 40 percent of its GDP from its oil resources and nearly 75 percent of its annual budget from the resource of oil.  So you can imagine it’s a big thing for us.  We’ve put a lot of money and investment in trying to improve the quality of the emissions that come out of the burning of oil, and research programs have been agreed to with your government when King Abdullah visited with President Bush last April in Crawford, Texas.  I can’t say frankly that alternative sources of energy are not going to affect that issue because they will.  However, we recognize, as I said in my talk, that oil is a finite resource.  One day the world community will just find it much too difficult to produce oil from the reserves that are available to it, whether it is the tar sands of Canada or other geologic formations anywhere in the world. 

And we have established a program of research in alternative energy sources, particularly solar energy, as our country is blessed with solar energy as it has been with oil.  We have a working Solar Energy Research Institute, I think it is called, in Colorado.  And this is the research project that was started back in 1977 when the late King Fahd visited with then-President Carter.  And as a result of that program, two villages near Riyadh in Saudi Arabia are powered completely by solar energy.  And the use of photovoltaic cells is the source of that energy. 

And the research has been going on now for nearly 30 years in that field and contributing to your knowledge of solar energy and photovoltaic cells and our knowledge and benefit from those resources.  So we do recognize the need for development of alternative energy sources.

But we still think that there is still much more to be done in the field of oil, whether it is in the way that it is explored or in the way that it is brought up or in the way that it is made more ecologically friendly.  And a lot of research needs to be put in that field as well and not simply ignored for what is the alternative sources of energy.

MS. GOODMAN:  The war on terror and the war in Iraq have strained relationships between the United States and many countries in the Middle East.  Do you think this can be repaired?

PRINCE TURKI:  The war on terror is truly the most sinister and debilitating international problem today.  It is a global issue that affects the world community and it should be dealt with on a global manner.  We have a saying in Arabic, which goes something like this:  “One hand does not clap.”  And particularly on the war on terror treating it globally is what is required.  That is why last – not this past February but last year, we held counterterrorism conference in Riyadh where more than 50 countries attended, including the United States. 

And at that conference, the Kingdom proposed the establishment of an international center for counterterrorism that would pool not just the information on terrorism and terrorists, but also the resources of countries that have the know-how and the capability to be made available to those countries that don’t.  Some of the poorer countries where some of these terrorists may operate and act and exist and recruit and so on, may not have the means of intelligence gathering and combating this horrible scourge.  So this center would presumably be able to provide that know-how and the information to all of the world communities so that we can deal with this critical issue on a real-time basis rather than on a one-to-one or two-to-one basis. 

And as far as the Kingdom and the US have been concerned, when I was director of intelligence from 1977 until 2001, our exchange of information on terrorism and terrorists with the U.S. was an ongoing process that never stopped.  And I remember in 1997, after we stopped Al-Qaeda cells from infiltrating into the Kingdom, our now-Crown Prince – then the Minister of Defense – Prince Sultan visited the United States and met with President Clinton and then-CIA director George Tenet.  And he proposed to them that the Kingdom and the US should have a joint committee to deal with terrorism in general, but more particularly with the Al-Qaeda terrorists in particular.  And that committee was established in 1997 and it sat every couple of months or so, either in the States or in Saudi Arabia exchanging information.  And then now, it is sitting permanently in Saudi Arabia and it has two aspects to it.  One is intelligence gathering and sharing on the terrorists themselves, and the other one, with your Treasury Department and your security departments, whether FBI or CIA or DIA, to pursue the financing of terrorism as well.  And that is the kind of work that has to be more broadly brought to fruition in other countries, not just the Kingdom, because these terrorists, as I said, operate on a global basis.

The war on Iraq – one of the benefits of the war on Iraq is the toppling of Saddam Hussein, and nobody can deny that.  The Iraqi people have definitely welcomed it.  The neighboring countries have all welcomed it.  And I think the rest of the world community welcomes it.  Whether there was disagreement about how the war was initiated or who initiated it and the procedure at that time, I think we’re well beyond that stage and we should look forward, rather than backwards.  We in the Kingdom are working with your government and the contiguous countries to Iraq and the Iraqi government as well to promote the stability and the territorial viability of Iraq.  Splitting up Iraq is not an option that any of us can accept.  Most importantly, the Iraqi people themselves have expressed their wish not to accept that option.  And just recently, after the recent events when the mosque was destroyed in Samarra and what followed from there in sectarian violence and so on, I think the Iraqi leadership particularly have come close to the abyss and have looked down that abyss and have said we’re not going to go that route.  So now they are working together to try to come together and form a national government that will bring all factions from all political and sectarian and ethnic divisions in Iraq in one government that would serve the Iraqi people.

Now, as to the effect of both of these on the relationship between the US and the Arab and Muslim world, you have your stereotypes about us and we have our stereotypes about you.  And that is why meetings like this and questions and answers like this are equally important to be held in Los Angeles for an official of Saudi Arabia as it is for an American official in Jeddah or in Riyadh or Islamabad and so on.  And as the visit of Ms. Karen Hughes to the Kingdom a few months ago where she was met by, actually in a ladies’ college, with an audience that grilled her about US policy and so on, we’ve had subsequent visit by people like Miss Liz Cheney from the State Department and the daughter of the Vice President who came and talked to another women’s college where she was also grilled on these – we need to have more of that. 

We need to have American officials come and attend functions like I am attending here, not just in Saudi Arabia, but wherever it is available in the Arab and Muslim world to break these stereotypes, to break the barriers that exist and that the terrorists thrive on.  It is the terrorists’ aim to drive us apart and we should not let them succeed.

MS. GOODMAN:  Again, a combination question, if you will.  The apparent deterioration of relationships between and among Christians, Jews, and Muslims is also of concern to this audience, including Saudi Arabia’s relationships with the state of Israel.  Could you comment please?

PRINCE TURKI:  Absolutely.  First of all, let me talk about Saudi Arabia’s issues with Israel.  We believe Israel is in illegal occupation of Palestine.  (Boos, applause.)  Thank you.  That further confirms my opinion, actually.  And that issue, the Kingdom has done several things about.  First of all, in 1981-82, the late King Fahd proposed for the first time in the Arab world a peace process that will not only commit the Arab world but all the Arab world to the recognition of the state of Israel as it exists.  This was in 1981-82.  It was called the Fahd peace plan.  I don’t know if any of you remember.  There was no response from Israel whatsoever.

And most recently, in 2002, then-Crown Prince Abdullah, now King Abdullah, proposed a new Arab peace plan to the Arab Summit Conference in Beirut in which he proposed that the Arab world recognize the state of Israel, and establish normal relations with the state of Israel in return for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and Jerusalem.  And not only was there no response from Israel, but there was very negative comment on the plan by people like Dov Weissglass, the advisor to then-Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon, who publicly said that this plan is the most dangerous plan that Israel could consider and therefore it is unacceptable to Israel.

These are just two of the many issues that Saudi Arabia has worked with, including all of the peace processes that have been followed in the Middle East, from the Rogers Plan in 1972 or 1971 all of the way through the Carter years, the Reagan years, the Bush Senior years, the Madrid plan, the Kennedy – Clinton years and now the Bush years.  So this is where we stand vis-à-vis Israel.

We have extended our hand in peace to Israel.  We are waiting for Israel to extend their hand in peace to us.  But it is important to recognize that we do this in a community of Arab countries, and we bring the Arab countries with us.  We cooperate with them.  We consult with them, and we try to reach a common consensus on all of these issues, and so far this is where we have reached.

Now, on the issue of Christians, Jews, and Muslims, ladies and gentlemen, we have our bigots in the Arab and Muslim world, believe it or not, but you have your bigots too and we cannot let these bigots drive us apart.  We Muslims not only accept but we also revere and adore all of the prophets from Noah to Jesus and Muhammad, and hold them equally as prophets of God sent down for the education and betterment of mankind.  We also consider Jews and Christians as people of the book, and their books, whether it is the Torah or the New Testament are revered by Muslims as we revere our own book, which is the Qu’ran, which we believe is a completion of the revealed books, whether it is the Torah or the New Testament.

And so this is the ideal state. 

But as I said, those among our community who say that they are Muslims, they have their views on how to interpret these issues and they would prefer to think of Muslims as exclusive from other believers in God.  But the true teachings of Islam urges and commit us to the fact that we are all believes in God and that God in his mercy when he dispenses salvation and mercy, he dispenses it to humanity.  And if we practice our religions correctly and accept the teachings of God as they have come down from all of the revered prophets, then we would all be in good stead.

MS. GOODMAN:  Thank you.

PRINCE TURKI:  I will gladly answer any questions.

MS. GOODMAN:  The speaker in the audience would like to hear more about the treatment of religions within the country.

PRINCE TURKI:  Can I just answer your question, young lady?

MS. GOODMAN:  Ladies and gentlemen, we really do not take unsolicited comments from the audience, so thank you very much.  The ambassador has been kind enough to answer.

PRINCE TURKI:  Thank you, ma’am.  Can I just say this about that?  I have no problem in answering the young lady’s question.  We in Saudi Arabia are the country of the Two Holy Mosques in Islam.  And the revelation of the – for the Prophet and the birth of the Prophet.  The whole Muslim world from wherever they be, even Muslims in the United States consider us as the holiest of holiest places for Islam.  And as such, issues like this, whether it is building of Christians churches or Jewish synagogues, or so on, is an issue that has to be dealt with by all of the Muslim communities throughout the world, not just Saudi Arabia.

And as King Abdullah said in public, and I think on American television, he said that we’re pretty much like the Vatican and one cannot imagine Muslims building a mosque inside the Vatican or Jews building a synagogue inside the Vatican.  But when the practice of religion is concerned, the regulations in the Kingdom are that people can practice their religion in their homes anyway they like without any hindrance, and that is the regulation in the Kingdom.

And I would just say that if the young lady would like to come to Saudi Arabia and visit the Kingdom and visit with the foreigners who liver there, and see for herself how they do their practice of religion and so on, that would be the best proof for her of where we stand.

MS. GOODMAN: Thank you. Do you anticipate in the political evolution of Saudi Arabia that women will be granted full suffrage?

PRINCE TURKI:  Absolutely.  Let’s just consider that for a moment and reverse it and say how long did it take women in America to get their full suffrage?

I know this is a question that arises all of the time for me, and I think not just me but any Saudi representative.  And I said this in public in I think in Texas it was in one of my answers.  I think men historically have been quite misogynistic towards women and have treated them badly – and have treated them badly wherever they come from, with no particular specialty of either Saudis or Americans or Indians or Chinese or so on. 

And I think as women become more educated and more empowered through business and through their own activities, they are the ones as they did in this country who will take their rights for themselves from the misogynistic male folk if you like, and this is where I see Saudi Arabia going.

MS. GOODMAN:  Thank you.  Last question.  Let’s see – in academia, the focus is moving away from static traditionalism in the past – is also undergoing economic reforms.  Do you think you will be rapidly moving away from a centralized and planned economy to a free-market environment?

PRINCE TURKI:  This is all part and parcel of our joining the WTO.  As you know, the WTO has regulations and procedures that promote free trade and entrepreneurship and private equity and private investment and encourages all of these things, and the Kingdom welcomes all of these activities.  Our philosophy is to have a free economy.  When it comes to practice, every once in a while leaderships in any country find that protectionism may be an issue that should be followed on certain aspects, and so to say that we are going to be following free trade is why we joined the WTO. 

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.

JON GOODMAN:  Ladies and gentleman, please.

PRINCE TURKI:  You’ve been very gracious, thank you.  Thank you very much.

MS. GOODMAN:  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Thank you.  I appreciate your patience, the ambassador’s patience.  Ladies and gentleman, once again, thank you for a lovely, lovely and exciting Town Hall meeting.  And I hope you will join us April 19th for Governor Kathleen Sebelius, governor of Kansas, one of the top five governors in the United States, and lunch with Chief Bratton.  Thank you very much.