Professor Bell, thank you for that kind introduction. I would also like to thank the Washington Center for giving me this opportunity this morning.
I always look forward to speaking before students. It is a privilege to be able to contribute what I can to your understanding of issues that are of great importance to our two nations. It further provides me an opportunity to contribute to a greater understanding of the Middle East region, as it is clearly at the center of many issues affecting the global community.
Let us take the long view for a moment. 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 and ambitions of the world. And, certainly, the mixing and interacting of these ambitions have often occurred in very violent ways.
It is important that we remember that conflicts that we are dealing with today did not inherently grow 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 we are influenced by whatever happens there, though we influence it in return. Our position is to maintain friendship and cooperation with all....”
This morning, I want to share with you Saudi Arabia’s view of the Middle East, as we work to foster a more stable and prosperous region, and in turn a more stable and prosperous world. It is important to examine the people whose lives we are trying to make better, so we are not overlooking their needs.
It is apparent that during the last century, as we tried to solve the global issues that intersect in the Middle East 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, influence, and 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, we are again faced with the prospect of a redefined region. But as the global powers – including the United States – try to foster stability and generate economic opportunity; let us not forget that at the heart of all of our efforts are 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.
Today this realization is more important than ever, because we face another world war – the global war against terrorism. Again, the face of the Middle East is being altered because of it. But this time there are no traditional frontlines, no borders and no territories to fight over. The grounds for these battles are in the hearts and minds of the people.
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 Palestinian-Israeli conflict, for example, Saudi Arabia wants to ensure that there is a calm, deliberate approach to allow for the implementation of President Bush’s Road Map for Peace and the Abdullah Peace Plan. We hope that the Palestinian and Israeli governments will endorse this approach and take all the necessary steps to implement it.
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 it will continue to provide terrorists with an excuse for their terrible actions throughout the world.
Another example is Iraq. Clearly, there is great turmoil in this country, but a solution to the problems there must come from within. The Iraqi people must be given the chance to resolve their disputes within an Iraqi identity, and an Iraqi sense of mission, and an Iraqi policy towards the future.
Saudi Arabia supports a stable and united Iraq – one that is representative of all peoples, regardless of ethnicity or religion. And we’ve been extending our hands to our Iraqi brothers, not only in providing humanitarian aid, but also providing needed support. In October, King Abdullah hosted a conference of religious leaders from the Shia and the Sunni communities in the Holy City of Makkah to help find solutions to issues between them.
Saudi Arabia has also 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, because again, the solutions must come from within the Iraqi people.
Of course, even where we have seen some progress in the Middle East, 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.
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. Throughout the global community, therefore, we must constantly work to promote greater understanding among people. 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 and mosques that calls for tolerance and moderation. We have also overhauled our education system by bringing in new curricula that emphasize critical thinking, and we are investing heavily in new schools and programs. We are sending Saudi students out into the world on scholarships to receive their college education. More than 10,000 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. We know the problems we face today will not be solved overnight, 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.