Ladies and Gentlemen: Thank you for joining me today. I would like to thank the Houston World Affairs Council and the Bilateral US-Arab Chamber of Commerce for hosting this event and for inviting me. Thank you.
Thank you former Secretary Mosbacher for the very kind introduction. You have been a longtime friend of Saudi Arabia, and have played an integral role in promoting trade and commerce between our countries. You have gone so far as to even open up your home over the years to visiting Saudi officials, and for this we are grateful.
I want also to thank Ambassador Jordan. His distinguished efforts as American Ambassador to Saudi Arabia have helped ensure continued cooperation between our nations at critical and sensitive times.
It is a pleasure to be in Houston again, a city from which some of the Kingdom’s oldest American friends hail. And a city with which we have a long history of partnership, ranging from government to business to healthcare. On a personal basis, my late mother, God rest her soul, my wife, my brother, and countless cousins and relatives received care in your expert hospitals. Doctors DeBakey and Attar are personal friends because of their dedication in treating Saudi patients.
Though we may be divided by oceans and languages, there are many things Saudi Arabia and Texas have in common – besides the open spaces and oil, that is. The other, of course, is the climate. I think people from Houston are among the few in the world that visit us in August and say, “I think it is cooler here than at home.”
I remember the story where a visitor to Texas once asked, “Does it ever rain in Texas?” A rancher quickly answered, “Yes, it does. Do you remember in the Bible where it rained for 40 days and 40 nights?” The visitor replied, “Yes, I’m familiar with Noah’s flood.” “Well,” the rancher said proudly, “We got about two and a half inches of that.”
But from the sun-baked earth of both Saudi Arabia and Texas have emerged two people that are both straightforward and plainspoken. We both believe in the bonds of friendship and the importance of loyalty. And we both hold dear the values of family and faith. These common attributes have been the foundation on which Saudis and Texans have shared a special and unique relationship; a relationship that started when your geologists and pioneers first helped us develop our energy resources, and one that continues to this day.
Ladies and Gentlemen: I hardly need to explain to you the importance oil plays in the Saudi-US relationship. As the world’s largest producer and exporter and the world’s largest consumer and importer of oil, Saudi Arabia and the US have a natural partnership.
Our cooperation in these matters has always been strong, but has matured greatly over the last decade. But it has become apparent in these days of rising global demand that more needs to be done to improve communications and dialogue between producers and consumers.
To meet this need, the permanent Secretariat of the International Energy Forum, which is headquartered in Riyadh, launched the Joint Oil Data Initiative in November of 2005. This database of information from more than 90 countries is intended to help plan for the future, and to better anticipate supply and demand trends around the world. One of the main reasons oil prices rose to such high levels in 2004 and 2005 was unanticipated strong demand in rapidly growing economies, like China and India.
King Abdullah believes this initiative is critical to maintaining a stable energy market. To ensure adequate supplies, and fair and reasonable prices for both producers and consumers, Saudi Arabia must be able to increase its production capacity without jeopardizing the interests of future generations, or damaging its oil fields. Improved planning and cooperation will help accomplish this.
Ladies and Gentlemen: The pursuit of a stable oil market is an easy illustration of why the world needs to cooperate. The economies of the world, and subsequently the livelihood of all of us, are affected by what happens in the oil market in one way or another.
Many do not realize that the oil we produce becomes part of a global market of all producing countries.
We in Saudi Arabia and other oil producers adapt our strategic planning for production and refining capacity, accordingly.
But as a global energy leader, Saudi Arabia will continue to work closely with all US administrations on where we can go from here. And we will continue to take actions and make investments to ensure that the world has an adequate and stable supply.
But I do not think we can now deny the fact that any nation’s actions, well beyond those that affect the supply of oil, also have an impact on people around the world. We live in a global community in which the future of our neighbors is as important as our own.
Certainly, the health of the global economy is crucial to all of our lives, and Saudi Arabia understands the important role it plays in the world and is committed to advancing peace and economic prosperity.
On December 15, the Kingdom officially became the World Trade Organization’s 149th member. This step was taken to integrate our nation fully into the world economy, and thereby ensure the well-being of our people.
Accession to the WTO is the culmination of more than a decade of hard work. The Kingdom has liberalized its trade regime and put in place a transparent and predictable environment for trade and foreign investment.
WTO membership will allow more Saudi products and investments in the global marketplace. It will also encourage more international products and investments to come to the Kingdom. Currently, the US is the Kingdom’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade rising from $160 million in 1970 to over $26 billion in 2004.
Ladies and Gentleman: I’ve heard the saying that “The business of Texas is business.” The same can be said of Saudi Arabia. At heart, we are a trading nation. Our ancestors plied the ancient trading routes of the Arabian Peninsula. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), was a trader who worked the caravan route between Damascus and Makkah, and in the employment of a businesswoman, no less – the blessed Khadija bint Khuwelid.
Today, our businessmen are part and parcel of the global trading system, and our companies can be found operating around the globe, including in Texas. As our history with the state of Texas proves, people who share the same outlook towards business and commerce should have no difficulty finding opportunities that benefit both sides.
My sister, Princess Loulwa Al-Faisal, who is the Vice-Chair of the Board of Trustees and General Supervisor of Effat College, visited Houston and four other U.S. cities last May as part of the 2005 Saudi Arabia Trade Mission. She was raising interest in the more than $623 billion in market opportunities projected for the Saudi economy through the year 2020. These opportunities exist in different sectors: electricity, water, telecommunications, petrochemicals, natural gas, agriculture, and information technologies, among others.
Growth in these areas will help stimulate job creation in the Kingdom, which is critical for the future welfare of the Saudi people.
The Kingdom has a burgeoning young population, and requires modernization and ingenuity to ensure their quality of life over the long term. WTO accession will help to diversify the Saudi economy from oil and create enough economic variety to accommodate the demands of our people.
As a part of this, Saudi Arabia is also ensuring that our citizens are prepared for life and work in a modern, global economy. Over the past 60 years, Saudi Arabia has established a nationwide educational system that provides free education from preschool through university to all citizens. More than 5 million students are currently enrolled in the educational system, which boasts a student to teacher ratio of 12.5 to 1.0 – one of the lowest in the world. Over 25 percent of our annual budget goes toward education and vocational training.
Education, ladies and gentlemen, is critical to success. We recognize that oil is a finite resource and in order to diversify our economy, we need to educate and train our youth in new areas where they can develop, grow and innovate.
As you may have read recently, the Saudi government is promoting a scholarship program to send Saudi students to attend colleges and universities abroad. In the first phase, the Kingdom has offered 10,000 students full four-year scholarships. Most of them will come to the US. In fact, there are already 232 Saudi students currently enrolled in the program who will be coming to Texas for their education.
The Saudi people have a lot to offer the world community. Through improved education and exposure to the world at large, we hope to facilitate continued, mutually beneficial international relations.
Increased international trade offers another great opportunity: to be able to combat the poverty and destitution throughout the world, which is commensurate with the Islamic tradition of outreach and charity.
The Kingdom has been blessed with great resources, which are being used for the betterment of the world community. “Your neighbor, your neighbor, then your neighbor,” goes a common Arabic saying. As part of our responsibilities, Saudi Arabia has contributed billions of dollars to the victims of hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Pakistan, the tsunami in Indonesia and in other parts of the world where aid is needed. In fact, as a percentage of GDP, Saudi Arabia is one of the largest donors of aid in the world. And recently, Saudi Arabia has joined with other major nations to set up a financial relief center so we can be better equipped to deal with future disasters wherever they may occur.
As you may be aware, Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam, one of the world’s three monotheistic religions, and the site of Islam’s two Holy Mosques. Five times a day, more than one billion Muslims turn in the direction of Makkah in prayer. Each year, tens of millions of Muslims come from all over the world for spiritual rejuvenation and fulfillment of their religious duty – as they did just last month. Accordingly, Saudi Arabia shoulders a responsibility of influence and moral leadership.
Indeed, it is a unique position to be in. Just as the U.S. holds a unique and influential position in the world today.
The United States is the only global superpower, and this imposes responsibilities and obligations upon it. But there is also a moral dimension to being the world’s sole superpower: respect for law and compassion for the oppressed.
Thus in spite of their admittedly disproportionate capabilities, our respective countries enjoy a position of influence that is complementary to that of the other. Complementary not only in that we share influence, but in that we stand for the same ideals. Despite some of our cultural differences, we have always shared the same basic belief in faith, family and the importance of honest and open communication. And these common attributes have served us well in tackling challenges throughout the world during the last 60 years.
Today, cooperation between the US and Saudi Arabia is greater than ever and has culminated in the establishment of a new way for our countries to work together and to ensure our interests are aligned: the Saudi/US Strategic Dialogue.
The Dialogue was conceived by King Abdullah and President Bush when they met in Crawford last April. They formed this Dialogue as a way to reintroduce cooperation between our countries – the type of cooperation we have known from the day President Franklin Roosevelt first met with the founder of the modern Saudi state King Abdulaziz back in 1945. The Dialogue is intended to institutionalize relations and deepen coordination on strategic and political issues.
The Saudi Foreign Minister and US Secretary of State met last November to commence the first session. The Strategic Dialogue will meet every six months, alternating between the Kingdom and the US. Senior officials from a number of departments and ministries from both countries will participate. Six initial working groups have been created: Energy; Economic and Financial Affairs; Consular Affairs; Partnership, Education and Human Development in the US and Saudi Arabia; Military Affairs; and Counterterrorism.
The Strategic Dialogue helps us in many ways, including keeping our countries at the forefront of combating our most common threat: terrorism. Terrorism, ladies and gentlemen, is unjustifiable under any circumstance. The taking of innocent lives contradicts the principles of all the revealed religions, as well as all universal values.
Saudi Arabia currently operates two joint task forces with the US to combat terrorism and terror financing. These task forces have been effective in achieving their missions, and have become a model for how nations can work together to defeat this evil.
By working together, we can, and we will, defeat terrorism.
Our nations are also moving to succeed in supporting efforts to promote peace throughout the world, particularly in the Middle East.
Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Saudi Arabia has made every effort to ensure that the Iraqi people achieve the stability and security that they richly deserve.
After Saddam’s government was overthrown and major military operations in Iraq ended, Saudi Arabia provided a comprehensive aid package, delivered convoys of humanitarian supplies, and sent a large, fully staffed field hospital to Baghdad to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people. Saudi Arabia remains fully committed to efforts to foster a stable, peaceful and united Iraq. The Kingdom has also convened meetings to help reach an agreement on a common future in which Iraq’s unity and territorial integrity is preserved, and in which all Iraqis are treated justly.
In addition to Iraq, we must work together to support the people of Afghanistan as they try to build a stable nation. The Afghan people have fought hard against their aggressors and are now working to ensure a lasting peace. As we witness the first signs of positive development, we must support the emergence of a national government and programs to disarm illegal groups.
We also face the challenge of finding a just and permanent settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has remained an open wound for more than 50 years. Saudi Arabia has clearly expressed its interest in reaching a peaceful end to this conflict. The Arab Summit in 2002 adopted the peace initiative put forth by then-Crown Prince, now King Abdullah for resolving the Arab-Israeli dispute.
We must do everything we can to support these two peoples as they struggle to find a peaceful resolution. The US, however, is the only country that can play a vital role in this endeavor. President Bush’s commitment to a two-state solution and his declared desire to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians during his term in office is important and welcome.
Ladies and Gentlemen: It is a characteristic of the Saudi people to be deliberate and careful in our actions. Our Bedouin heritage dictates that our plans should be studied and meaningful, as there is little room for rash behavior in the desert. We have learned, over the centuries, that in order to survive in the desert, we must be able to differentiate between a mirage and the real thing.
Winston Churchill is said to have once told his driver: “Slow down, I’m in a rush.” He must have been a Bedouin at heart. Our society operates in a similar way, and the pursuit of lasting change needs to be as considerate of tradition as it is of the future. It must be deliberate to be real.
Last month, the Mayor of Riyadh Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Miqren chaired the first meeting of the Municipal Council of the City of Riyadh. This is the first of the 178 municipal councils throughout the Kingdom to which members were elected last spring.
Formation of these councils and the corresponding elections represent an important step in the Kingdom’s ongoing effort to promote greater participation by Saudi citizens in the decisionmaking process.
Indeed, even more recently, Saudi citizen Nadia Bakhurji won a seat on the new ten-member board of the newly formed Saudi Engineers Council. She hopes to increase membership and visibility of women, and to create a database of all female engineers, designers and architects.
Women now have also been elected onto the boards of other professional organizations, including the Saudi Journalists Association and the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry. These women, who have the support of their peers and communities, are reaching new levels; each year, we witness an increasing number of female graduates from Saudi schools and colleges – and that number has been consistently greater than the number of male graduates.
These are universally positive developments.
I imagine your curiosity about Saudi Arabia is great. And I hope you will take the time to learn more about us than what is often portrayed in movies and on television. John Steinbeck once referred to Texas as more than a state, but a state of mind. And I imagine that one needs more than a few re-runs of “Dallas” to understand the people and the heritage of this great state. The same is true for Saudi Arabia. There are a great many flowers blooming in our desert, if one takes time to observe them.
As the interests of the world’s nations are increasingly intertwined, the actions we take at home and the actions we take abroad will have consequences that will resonate to the deepest parts of how we will live our lives – from our very outlook to how we raise our children. Only through cooperation will we be able to achieve the peace and prosperity all people deserve.
Thank you, and God’s peace and blessings are upon you.