Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held a joint press conference in Riyadh last night after meeting for a round of talks.
Their meeting was a follow-up to talks held by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and President George W. Bush during the president’s three-day state visit to Saudi Arabia.
Prince Saud remarked that the meetings held during the visit exemplified the spirit of frankness, transparency and strategic partnership that has characterized strong, historic Saudi-US relationship.
Much of the Saudi-US discussion on regional and international affairs focused on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Prince Saud said. “The Kingdom welcomes the US assertions of their commitment to the peace process in the region, the trend towards urging the negotiations and urging the parties to further commitment reaching a peace agreement by the end of 2008, according to the basis and principles of Annapolis Conference,” he noted.
However, the prince expressed concern at ongoing Israeli expansion of settlements. “The continuity of Israel’s expansion in settlements cast doubts on the seriousness of the negotiations,” he warned.
Asked if the Kingdom planned to reach out to Israel, Prince Saud replied that Saudi Arabia has already proposed a peace plan that involves normalization of relations.
On Iraq, both Saudi Arabia and the United States expressed satisfaction with the improved security situation there and stressed that national reconciliation should follow, the prince said. He noted that Saudi Arabia has designated an ambassador for its embassy in Baghdad, and expressed the hope that the mission would open in the next few months.
Turning to Lebanon, both Prince Saud and Secretary Rice condemned yesterday’s attack on a US Embassy vehicle in Beirut and stressed the importance of resolving the political crisis there.
“This terrorist act, if it is meant with it to prevent the people from continuity of the situation in Lebanon and supporting Lebanon to reach a solution over its crisis, this will not be a success,” Prince Saud said of the Beirut attack. “The Arab initiative is still in place and is still on the table, and we hope whoever has influence in Lebanon to support this initiative, because in it there is salvation for Lebanon.”
Regarding Iran, Prince Saud urged Tehran to cooperate with the international organizations and avoid escalating tensions. “We hope that Iran also responds to the international legitimacy requirements and the UN, and to abide by the IAEA in its nuclear program, and to avoid escalation at any time. It’s not in its interests.”
On Saudi-US relations, Prince Saud stressed the strong educational, economic, and security ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia. “There have been a number of positive issues from the strategic dialogue,” he said. “Most importantly, the increase of students entering the United States from less than 3,000 to more than 15,000 students over the last three years; as well as the record level of trade between the two countries.”
Asked if King Abdullah and President Bush discussed human rights and reform in the Kingdom, Prince Saud replied, “I think the presence of the president here is better than a question about human rights in Saudi Arabia. He has seen the people, he has met with many people. He has been in the Advisory Council, he has met many officials. He has asked many questions. And I hope that he was satisfied with what he saw in the Kingdom.”