President Wefald, thank you for the kind introduction. Thank you all for the warm welcome. It is an honor to be at K-State again.
In December of 1966, Governor Landon delivered the first lecture in this series. As you may know, its title was “New Challenges in International Relations.” That could be the title of my talk today. Clearly, there are a variety of new challenges facing the global community: terrorism, Iraq, Iran and Palestine to name a few. Saudi Arabia and the United States are working together to address all of them.
Our two nations are fortunate to have a long history of such cooperation. Our leaders have always worked closely. And we have long sought new ways of ensuring our continued partnership.
If you are familiar with Saudi Arabia, then you know the story of the first meeting between King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud and President Franklin Roosevelt. King Abdulaziz – or Ibn Saud, as he was known – was the founder of the modern Saudi state. These two great leaders first met aboard the USS Quincy in the Red Sea on February 14, 1945. This is a special day for me, as it was one day before I was born, many miles away in the holy city of Makkah. The crucial meeting between the men occurred for several reasons.
Oil had been discovered two decades before in our neighboring countries of Bahrain and Kuwait. Soon after, Saudi Arabia was inundated with various British and French interests, seeking concessions in the Kingdom. Ibn Saud, however, chose to deal with the Americans. He knew the United States did not have a history of colonial exploitation. Also, Ibn Saud was familiar with the United States’ constitution, with its guarantees of individual liberties. This appealed to his love of freedom. So he concluded an agreement of exploration for oil with standard oil of California, in 1933. He also wanted to get Roosevelt involved in de-colonizing the Arab States, including Palestine, that were still under European colonial rule.
From Roosevelt’s perspective, he was returning from Yalta, where he and Churchill had met with Stalin. They were planning the political and geographic future of the world, following the defeat of the Axis powers. Roosevelt was interested in establishing friendly relations in the Middle East region.
For very practical reasons, both sides were amenable to meeting. So it was worth Ibn Saud’s long trek from Makkah to the Red Sea. And it was worth Roosevelt’s arduous ocean voyage aboard a battleship. What they probably didn’t expect was that they would become fast friends. The two leaders had a great deal in common. Roosevelt even gave Ibn Saud one of his wheelchairs. The Saudi King was quite impressed by it, as he was at that point an aged warrior who was suffering from many battle wounds. The meeting began what has become known as the “special” relationship between our countries.
When considering the efforts that had to be made for the two leaders to meet, we are fortunate their personal connection was so strong – weathering distance and time. After the meeting, Ibn Saud and Roosevelt exchanged letters. Those letters took weeks to be relayed. For a long while, our leaders communicated through diplomats in Egypt. An embassy was later established in the Kingdom.
Clearly, a great deal has changed in diplomatic relations from that day – between our two countries and in the world. Now, it is a matter of a phone call. With the push of a button, leaders can talk with each other. For critical communications, this has made life easier. Yet, it has also changed the role of diplomats like me.
So as I conclude my tenure in public service – as a diplomat – I would like to share with you some of my views on this changing world of international relations. Today, whether you recognize it or not, each of you plays an increasingly important part in diplomatic activities. Indeed, the very process of international relations has now become the art of public diplomacy.
Think about it: Since long before Machiavelli wrote The Prince, international diplomacy was the exclusive province of diplomats and national leaders. Realpolitik was practiced over the centuries by such historical figures as Richelieu, Metternich, Bismarck and Kissinger – from the Western perspective. In the Arab world, our great leaders have included Haroon al Rasheed, Abdurrahman al Thalith, Nizam al Mulk, Muhammad al Fatih, Muhammad Ibn Saud, Muhammad Ali, Sultan Abdulmajeed, and King Faisal bin Abdulaziz.
All of these individuals played political chess with nation-states. They balanced and maneuvered one against the other to gain political advantage. The United States, in fact, owes its existence to diplomats – one in particular: Benjamin Franklin. Franklin’s popularity and diplomatic skill convinced France to recognize the American colonies as sovereign. In 1778, French support of the thirteen states went far to secure your eventual independence from Britain.
Today, though, the game has changed. The diplomat has a different job to do. One that is no less important, but one that is definitely apart from whispering secrets in the ears of leaders. Suddenly, an average citizen is as important for us to speak with than any head of state. As Saudi ambassador, I am equally concerned with the President as I am with all of you here.
Having been given a voice by the media, the internet and satellite communications, people are empowered as never before to influence the outcome of world events. The same technology that makes it easy for leaders to communicate has given rise to greater expression and influence of popular opinion.
The people have a voice. Leaders listen. And the simple fact is: Governments can work together better when their constituents are supportive of their aims. Whether or not a nation’s citizens foster a positive environment toward a foreign people matters a great deal. I believe this point is illustrated beautifully by the history of relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States.
From the day of the meeting between King Abdulaziz and President Roosevelt, our countries have had a mutually beneficial relationship. It was based on the strength of that first person-to-person exchange. We’ve had our ups and downs, as they exist in all relationships. But we’ve helped each other where we could. Together, we successfully fought the spread of communism. Together, we stopped Iraqi aggression in Kuwait. For more than six decades, we were strong military allies, reliable energy partners and good friends.
But everything changed on September 11, 2001. That day, our relationship, which had lasted in calm for some 60 years, was plunged into crisis. Suddenly, there existed deep suspicion, mistrust and misperception. Any questions we may have had about one another became concerns. Any uncertainty became anxiety.
Everything had to be reexamined. It was a horrible period of time. Saudi Arabia, for one, faced brutal criticism. Our country, our faith, and our national character were maligned almost daily in books, newspapers and on television.
We all had to reexamine whom we thought we knew and our sense of the world around us. Saudi Arabia certainly went through this. One American columnist wrote after 9/11 that Saudi Arabia had gone through a state of shock, then denial, then introspection, and then action. I think this is a fair assessment.
But as our governments worked to reestablish trust and cooperation, there still was a pervasive insecurity among our people. Saudis felt scorned by the Americans. Americans felt betrayed by the Saudis. Misunderstanding bred fear. As I said, it was ugly for both sides.
In our work to rebuild, Saudi and American leadership first sought to create a new mechanism to provide regular opportunities for our leaders to talk. After all, even though we can pick up the phone, sometimes we take that for granted. So our nations created the Saudi-U.S. Strategic Dialogue.
This new mechanism has institutionalized relations between our countries. That way, we can overcome inevitable differences and align our resources and capabilities to a greater extent. The Strategic Dialogue is progressing through regular meetings between the Saudi Foreign Minister and the U.S. Secretary of State. Again, on the official level, the best channels for communication are the most direct ones.
But one element that was built into the Strategic Dialogue was on a different level. It was a working group to focus on people-to-people exchange. As ambassador, I chaired the Saudi side of this working group. What our governments had rapidly realized was that we could rebuild official relations, but they were going to be difficult to maintain if our people didn’t support them.
From Saudi Arabia’s perspective, we knew what we had to do. We had to talk. It is not in our nature. It is not what we’ve done in the past. We’re a private people. But we took steps to change. We’ve invited journalists to cover events in the Kingdom. We’ve invited Congressional officials. We’ve widened our doors to foreign trade and joined the World Trade Organization. We’ve even amended our visa laws to encourage more visitors.
But, as the author A. A. Milne once wrote: “You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”
So we’ve changed our outward approach as well. This is why I’ve traveled to some 25 states during my tenure as ambassador. It is why I’ve talked with countless audiences. And why I’ve participated in well over a hundred public events in the last year alone.
But it is not only me. Many Saudi officials travel through the U.S. each year. Many Saudi citizens do as well. Just as it was worth President Roosevelt making that long voyage to meet with King Abdulaziz, it is worth it every time a Saudi talks with an American. The real exchanges – the ones that form lasting bonds – need to be made in person.
We believe in this to a great extent. This is why Saudi Arabia has also rejuvenated a scholarship program to send Saudi students to colleges and universities abroad. They can learn, make friends, and experience foreign cultures. In the first phase of the program, more than 10,000 students were offered full, four-year scholarships. Most of them are studying in the United States. This will instill within the next generation of citizens and leaders the importance of maintaining people-to-people relations.
That way, when a hard-line evangelical makes a racist comment about Arabs in the U.S. – and it ends up in The New York Times – the Saudi people will understand this is a minority sentiment. They will actually know Americans and know what they think and feel. The same goes for when a radical imam makes comments aimed at incitement. Americans will understand that this is not the view of the Saudi people – but of one fanatical cleric. It is both important and necessary to maintain an understanding between the people of our two nations – as well as the people of the global community.
This is because, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are in a new age of diplomacy – one of public diplomacy. And the critical nature of employing public diplomacy is relevant to every major conflict in the world today. The problems of one nation or one people are the problems of the world.
It is imperative that we truly consider how our political decisions impact the people, not just of our particular nations, but those of the global community. It is their well being that is ultimately affected. And it is within their power to create change. They will be the ones who will stand up for peace or be the victims of the next act of violence based on how foreign policies play out in their back yards.
In this complex era, there are new battles every day for the attention, affinity, and loyalty of the people throughout the world. We compete alongside rival factions, terrorists and even misadventurous states. So we must work and work together. Nations can no longer define their strength solely by individual might; they must define it by the level of cooperation they can achieve to reach their goals.
Saudi Arabia and the United States are fortunate to have leadership and citizens like you who continue to encourage our partnership and positive aims in the world. The strength of our longstanding relationship can weather tough times and rise to meet new challenges and an evolving world of complexities. I remain hopeful we will someday see lasting peace.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Thank you all for being here today. And thank you again for inviting me.