My friend Miner, it is a pleasure to see you after so many years. I still remember sharing with you the bringing of water pails to quench the thirst of the Lawrenceville soccer team. Thank you very much for inviting me today. Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to share some brief remarks and then leave plenty of time for questions.
I understand that part of your mission is to promote the spirit and traditions of English-speaking people in the United States and Britain. This is an appropriate venue for me, then. Having been Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom before assuming my post here in the United States gives me excellent qualifications. Arabic may be my first language, but my work – like yours – to raise cultural awareness and understanding has been primarily in English.
What has helped me is the amount of time I have spent in the United States.
I first came to this county at the age of 14. My parents sent me here to be educated at a boarding school across the river in New Jersey. I have very fond memories of this time. I can recall when I went to school on the first day, a young boy came up to me, slapped me on the back and introduced himself. I introduced myself in return, and from that point on, he just kept asking me questions: Where are you from? What is it like? How many members are there in your family? What kind of tent do you live in? Do you ride a camel or not?
He was very much like many Americans I’ve met during my recent travels across this country – very engaging, very appealing and very inquisitive. I remember that interaction because it made me feel at home immediately.
But this experience is not unique to me. The people of our two nations have been developing friendships and partnerships for more than six decades – since long before our governments had developed an official relationship. 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.
The Saudi and American people found that despite some of the cultural differences we have, we are in fact a great deal alike. We’re plainspoken and straightforward, and we both believe in the importance of faith and family.
Moreover, we want the same things for us and for our children that you do: security, opportunity, good health and education, and a bright future. We know that this can be a challenging proposition, so in Saudi Arabia we have been diligently working for years to modernize and to confront head-on the problems that exist within our society.
King Abdullah has set out an aggressive plan to improve the Saudi education system, which includes updating teacher training, and new textbooks and curricula. He has also revitalized a program to build on the legacy of strong interpersonal relationships between our people. The Kingdom has been offering Saudi students an opportunity to study abroad. More than 10,000 are already studying here in the United States. While this is a way for them to receive a world-class education, they also will be forming the next generation of friendships and bonds between Saudis and Americans. They will be the true ambassadors that build new bridges of understanding between our people.
By undertaking these types of initiatives, we are ensuring that young Saudis are equipped with the skills and knowledge required to succeed in today’s global economy.
A year ago, the Kingdom became a member of the World Trade Organization. This is providing us with great opportunities to diversify our economy and attract foreign investment. As a result of this and other economic reforms, there will be over $650 billion worth of investment opportunities over the next 15 years. This will create jobs and opportunities for Saudis.
Diversifying our economy also means moving away from our economy’s reliance on oil. We are growing our information technology and financial services industries. We are also creating centers of commerce and business, like the King Abdullah Economic City. This $26 billion mega-project will be a next generation center of finance, healthcare, and technological development.
These developments, which are only a few of many, are not just for the Saudi people. We live in a global community, so if we are to benefit ourselves, we are benefiting those in the world with whom we interact. And we interact with the U.S. in particular a great deal. This is why it is so important that we continue to redefine our relationship as it evolves, which is what we have been doing all along.
Perhaps, the clearest, most recent example of how our nations’ relationship has been evolving to meet new needs is the Saudi-U.S. Strategic Dialogue. This new mechanism is intended to institutionalize relations between our countries, to overcome inevitable differences and to align our resources and capabilities to a greater extent. The Strategic Dialogue is progressing through regular meetings every six months between the Saudi Foreign Minister and the U.S. Secretary of State. They last met in May, and will meet again in December. There are also working groups from both governments that work constructively and comprehensively – on a continuous basis – in a range of issues of importance to both countries – from military cooperation to society and culture.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am glad Saudi Arabia and the United States have been able to expand on our historical friendship. The bonds formed between our people have served as a foundation for the bonds formed by our governments. In an increasingly complicated world, Saudi Arabia and the United States need to understand each other now, more than ever.
From the Saudi citizens who come to this country for education – of whom I was one – to the first meeting between Saudi and American leaders in 1945 – when Franklin Roosevelt met King Abdulaziz – our countries have built a solid base upon which to continue to build friendships into the future.
I remember as I was preparing to leave for my new assignment here in the U.S., I asked King Abdullah: “Your Majesty, how should I deal with President Bush and the American people?” He turned to me – and without batting an eye – said: “Just be frank with them.”
With this in mind, a little over a year ago, when I delivered my diplomatic credentials to Secretary Rice, I reminded her of a story about Winston Churchill. I told her about how he was a guest at the White House during the war years when President Roosevelt wanted to honor him by putting him up in the White House instead of Blair House.
One night, Mr. Roosevelt wheeled into Mr. Churchill’s room and found him stark naked. Embarrassed, Roosevelt tried to wheel back out quickly. But Churchill turned to him and he said: “Mr. President, the Prime Minister of England has nothing to hide from the President of the United States.”
I assured your Secretary of State that I was not going to come to her naked on any occasion, but that that is the kind of relationship Saudi Arabia would like to have with the United States. We have nothing to hide.
Now, with that in mind, I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.
Thank you again for inviting me, and for your patience and attention.