In the name of God, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate.
Thank you, John for a great introduction. You gave me more credit than I deserve. The Joint Information Bureau in Dhahran was set up by a number of officials from the Ministry of Information as well as from the Embassy, and I personally was one of the junior people in the efforts so I don’t—while I appreciate the credit—I certainly don’t deserve it. But in any case, thank you for the very kind words and allow me to express my appreciation to the National Council for hosting this very conference once again.
The subject matter of my talk is the “Ambassador’s View from Washington.” That’s a fairly tall order. There are many many views in Washington and many many ambassadors in Washington. So I will talk a little bit about the history of our bilateral relationship, the challenges that it faces, the state of our relationship today, and the steps that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has taken and continues to take in order to bring our worlds closer together. And then I will be happy to take questions. Hopefully I will have a little more time for you than my colleague, Ambassador Crocker.
The relationship between our two countries is now in its seventh decade. In the 1930s, when your Army Corps of Engineers was building the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, your business community built an 8,000 mile bridge to Saudi Arabia. Americans came. They discovered oil. They put down roots among us. They launched what was to become a very important relationship to both countries as well as to the world.
The relationship took on a political dimension when the late King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud met with the late President Franklin Roosevelt on the USS Quincy at The Great Bitter Lake in Egypt in 1945 at the end of World War II. That cemented the diplomatic aspect of the relationship. And then of course the military relationship began in the early 1950s when the U.S. started its first military training mission to Saudi Arabia.
Over the past seven decades, our relationship has seen the coming and breaking of many storms. We have dealt jointly and effectively in facing the challenges to our respective nations as well as to the [Middle East] region. And with every decade and with every experience, our relationship has come out stronger than it was before.
Allow me to very quickly go through some of the history of that relationship, because people tend to forget or not put things in their proper context.
In the 1950s and 60s, when it was not fashionable to be America’s friend, Saudi Arabia was. In the 1950s and 60s, when our Region was consumed by radicalism, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States were able to confront that radicalism, and in fact prevail over it. In the 1970s and 80s, when the Soviet Union was…expanding its influence or seeking to expand its influence in Central Asia, in the Horn of Africa, and even in the Middle East, it was Saudi Arabia that was one of the key countries in preventing a Soviet takeover of the Region.
Of course, we all remember the joint effort between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States in the 1980s in support of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, which led to their defeat of the Soviet Union, the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan and subsequent to that the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The relationship was again tested and came out with flying colors in 1990/1991, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and when our two countries put together a coalition of over 30 countries to liberate Kuwait and restore its legitimate government.
Then of course our next big challenge was the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when we discovered that 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. It was devastating to us. It was a big blow potentially to the relationship. It cast doubts in the minds of Americans about Saudi Arabia. It unleashed a tremendously critical and negative portrayal of Saudi Arabia in the United States and in the rest of the world. We in the Kingdom dealt with this issue. And [the Kingdom and the U.S.] examined the threat that we faced. We confronted it head-on and we came out of this experience…with a much healthier and much stronger relationship than we had before the events.
Today, when I look at our relationship, I like to quote Ronald Reagan. He used to say that “facts are stubborn things.” And when we look at the facts of the relationship between our two countries today versus where they were even as recently as 10 years ago, I think the numbers are staggering.
Today as we speak, we have over 30,000 Saudi students studying at American colleges and universities. This is an all-time high number. we have never had that many students studying in the United States. They will come back and they will be advocates of the bilateral relationship. They will be ambassadors for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia while they’re here. And they will be ambassadors for the United States when they go back.
This is a very important and strategic step and decision that was made by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques after his meeting with President Bush in Crawford in 2005. To put the number in perspective, in 2003, the number of students in the United States did not exceed 3,000. So we have ten times as many students today as we had back then.
Another example is the travel between our respective countries. The number of visas issued by the American Embassy and consulates in Saudi Arabia last year, to Saudi citizens was about 70,000. That is an all-time high number. And then number of visas that our Embassy and consulates in the United States issued to Americans is about 65,000. That also is an all-time high number.
When I look at investments between the two countries, they’re at record numbers. We are on track to double the American investment in Saudi Arabia over a 60-year period in a matter of five years, if we exclude the investments in Aramco. I can cite a joint venture between Aramco and Dow Chemicals that will amount to over 20 billion dollars. Alcoa is doing a joint venture with Ma'aden to produce one of the biggest aluminum smelting complexes in the world at the value of over 14 billion dollars, and the list goes on.
So when I look at the numbers and the facts, I see a very healthy and robust relationship. When I look at the interaction between our two governments, we have worked very hard, both of us, over the last six or seven years, to institutionalize our relationship. To build bridges directly between different agencies of our government so that they can handle problems at a working level rather than have each problem grow and literally grow out of context.
We are able to deal with consular matters that involve visas and duration of visas and child custody cases. We are able to deal with commercial issues like commercial disputes between companies. We put them in channels where they can be dealt with at a working level rather than turning them into political problems. We have a very close cooperation in the field of counterterrorism and terror finance. We have programs in term for critical infrastructure protection. We have programs for exchanging information on identifying radicalism and extremism and ways of dealing with it. I believe these issues have helped to solidify and cement a very strong and very important relationship.
The arms package that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is discussing with the United States is a testament to the strength of the relationship. It is the largest package in the history of the two countries’ relationship, and I believe that it reinforces the commitment of both nations to the relationship as well as to the security to our Region.
Though having said all of this, it doesn’t mean we don’t have disagreements. We do in a number of areas. And where we do have these disagreements, we don’t shy away from expressing them. We are frank and open with each other. We believe that honesty is the most important element in any relationship—honesty and clarity. And we make sure that, we try our best, to make sure that we are very clear and direct with our American friends on a number of issues and also on the challenges that we believe we need to pay attention to.
I don’t have to remind you that our Region is full of challenges, whether it’s Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, the situation in Lebanon, the peace process, or the situation in Yemen, even in Somalia we have to worry about terrorism and pirates. We have a financial crisis globally that we have worked closely and with our G20 partners to overcome. And then of course there is the continuing situation involving energy security and the supply demand situation in energy.
Having said this I would like to give you a sense on the Kingdom’s view on how we see our role in the Region as well as in the world. The Kingdom’s objective is to seek stability and security for its people and for the Region. Saudi Arabia is a status quo power. We have no ambitions beyond our borders. We would like to live in a safe peaceful and prosperous neighborhood. Our efforts have been geared towards building bridges, not burning them.
You see this approach translated domestically in the launching of the national dialogues in Saudi Arabia so that we bring our nation together to face the challenges that we have to confront or deal with as a nation.
Externally, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques has launched an Interfaith Dialogue that began in Makkah with the gathering of over 600 scholars and religious figures from the Islamic world representing all sects in order to look at the issue of dealing with each other and dealing with other faiths. That was subsequently followed by an interfaith conference in Madrid that was attended by representatives of all the major religions and cultures, and it culminated in November of 2008 at a high-level meeting at the United Nations that brought together all representatives of all the faiths in order to reinforce the common values handed to us by our Creator and in order to use religion and the values enshrined in all religions to bring people together rather than to divide them.
Irrespective of one’s faith, we believe that all faiths believe in the principles of compassion and mercy and love and peace and taking care of the less fortunate. All religions reject violence and extremism and crime. All people of faith share the same values when it comes to the importance of maintaining the integrity of the family, the importance of protecting the environment, because if one part of our globe suffers, the rest of the globe suffers with it. And so faith, as part of this initiative, is to be used as an objective to bring people together rather than divide them.
You also see it in the universities that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has launched. I mentioned earlier that we send our students abroad. We also established the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology that is essentially an international university. Its students and faculty hail from over 50 countries. It has cooperative relationships with over 40 of the world’s top academic institutions. We share research. We share knowledge. We share students. And this is another way of connecting with the world.
So go back to the original headline, or title of my talk, “An Ambassador’s View from Washington”, I believe that the view of the relationship is a very positive and healthy one. I think the future of our bilateral relationship will continue to grow stronger and deeper and more robust. I have no doubts about this. I believe that the ability of our two countries to deal with the challenges either that they both face or that the relationship will inevitably face from time to time is a very pragmatic one and I think a very solid one. So I’m very optimistic that the future, God willing, will be even better than the past.
Question: Status report on King Abdullah’s peace proposal, March 31 2002, in Beirut unanimously endorsed by the 22 Arab countries, members of the league of Arab states. Where is it and why hasn’t it been more positively received by the Israelis on one hand and elements of the United States on the other?
Ambassador Al-Jubeir: The Arab Peace Initiative which was adopted by the Arab Summit in Beirut remains on the table. It is now become one of the key reference points for the settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Not only was it adopted unanimously by the 22 Arab countries, by all the members of the Arab League, but also by the countries of the Organization of Islamic Conference at the extraordinary summit in Makkah held in December of 2005. So not only would it bring peace with all of the Arab countries but all of the Muslim countries have committed themselves to peace.
We are puzzled that the Israelis have not responded favorably to this. The Peace Initiative has all the elements for settlement. It stands for peace and just settlement for the refugees. It represents peace and normal relations, with all that entails between Israel and the Arab countries. And the answer probably ought to be directed to our colleagues in parts of the U.S. government in terms of why they haven’t responded.
But in all fairness to the Obama Administration, I believe that from the very beginning, President Obama has made references to the Arab Peace Initiative and to its importance. I believe in one of his very first speeches, he commended the Peace Initiative and saw it as a basis for resolving the conflict. We need a will to reach a compromise which the Arab world has displayed but we don’t see on the Israeli side. We need a flexibility which the Arab world has shown but we have not yet seen on the Israeli side. There has to be a strategic decision made that peace is an objective.
I believe the Arab world has done this by agreeing to the two-state settlement based on the ‘67 borders, an end of claims and a beginning of a state of normal relations. We don’t, we haven’t really seen that on the other side. What we see is a focus on details, process rather than substance.
We have been, when I say we, I mean the Arab League as a whole, and the Arab League has made this point repeatedly, that it is important to define the objective of the talks and then invite the parties to negotiate towards that objective so it is clear to everybody where we will be going and where we will end up. I believe that the Arab Peace Initiative has defined this objective and what we need is the will to negotiate towards this objective. Our peace making has never been easy and I don’t believe it ever will be easy. It needs strength and resolve and it needs flexibility. I think in terms of the efforts of the Obama Administration, there is no doubt in our minds that they have sincerely and very diligently tried to move the process forward. But our doubts lie with the other side.
Question: We have a question about Saudi Arabia concerns with Iran, Iraq, and or Yemen. You can do all three of them if you like or take the one that’s of greatest concern to Saudi Arabia perhaps to dispel some of the myths of the stereotypes that people report about Sausi Arabia’s views, needs, concerns on those three issues.
Ambassador Al-Jubeir: All three countries are neighbors of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and all very important neighbors. Our view in terms of Iran is that we hope the Iranians will abide by international law and subject their nuclear program to inspections. We don’t deny their right to have peaceful nuclear energy as long as they live up to their obligations to the international protocols that define how you exercise this right. We believe, more broadly speaking, that all of the Middle East should be free of all types of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.
With regards to Iraq, we feel for our Iraqi brothers. We feel that Iraq is going through a very difficult and very challenging situation. The lack of formation of a government is a matter of a concern not only to us, but to a lot of other countries. We believe that the Iraqis have a constitutional process and the constitutional process specifies how you arrive at the formation of a government. And we would hope that the Iraqis will follow that constitutional process and that they will be able to put together a government fairly expeditiously that is representative of all of Iraq. Iraq has a challenging future ahead of it. But we have no doubt that the energy of the Iraqi people and the resources of the Iraqi nation will help them go back to normalcy.
With regard to Yemen, Saudi Arabia has very close and very historic ties with Yemen. Yemen is facing many challenges and deserves our unwavering support. The Yemenese government is facing challenges and primarily one of the Al Qaeda groups is trying to establish itself in Yemen, and we must do what we can to deny them that ability. Yemen faces economic developmental problems which we believe the world must come together to support them on. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has, and continues to be, one of the largest supporters in terms of economic assistance to our Yemeni brothers and we will continue to do so. We hope that, God willing, that Yemen will be able to overcome the economic challenges that it faces and emerge with a more prosperous future.
Question: Yes, thank you. You mentioned Saudi Arabia’s strategic objectives being stability and security en route to prosperity. Saudi Arabia has an unemployment problem, it has a youth bulge problem. The oil and energy industries are famous for not employing so many human beings but being capital intensive. What can you say about this situation in terms of the youth and the employment situation in Saudi Arabia barring on those strategic objectives of security and stability? We have a whole session later this afternoon, but there’s many people are concerned about the youth aspect and the lack of jobs and the need for placing more than 100,000 people who graduate from secondary school in some forms of employment and if that’s just not successful, it’s a social issue. It could become a political issue. It could become a security and a stability issue.
Ambassador Al-Jubeir: I think that the peace and stability starts at home. If you have a peaceful and stable society, you could work towards a peaceful and stable region. The future of Saudi Arabia lies with its people. Our youth are our most precious natural resource and how we prepare them for a future, the opportunities we give them in terms of education and the opportunities we give them in terms of the marketplace, are critically important to the wellbeing of Saudi Arabia in the decades ahead.
It is ironic that 30 years ago people complained that Saudi Arabia didn’t have enough people. Now they argue maybe we have too many people. I see this as a blessing of riches. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia embarked on tremendous economic reforms by opening up its economy, by revitalizing its tax systems, by its investment laws, by joining the World Trade Organization. What we have seen as a consequence of Saudi Arabia’s accession to the World Trade Organization at the end of 2005 is we have seen the acceleration of growth rates—almost a doubling of the rate of growth. With it has come an acceleration in foreign investment in Saudi Arabia.
We have seen an expansion of the Saudi economy to today. It is close to 500 billion dollars, our GDP. The investments that are taking place in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will generate jobs and they are generating jobs. The students that are being sent from Saudi Arabia abroad and we have 100,000 students studying all over the word, of whom 30,000 are in the United States, will come back and be equipped to enter the marketplace and become productive and prosperous citizens.
With regards to the graduates of secondary schools, Saudi Arabia has in place vocational training centers in order to teach people trades and then provide them with loans or grants so they can open small business and join the marketplace.
So I believe the issue of our youth of expanding the Saudi economy, and generating jobs for our citizens, while it is critically important to any government, I wouldn’t make it as dramatic sounding as we hear sometimes when outsiders look at the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Question: Last question focuses on about five years ago, there was a consensus that America’s and Saudi Arabia’s and the other Arab World producer’s strategic interest was energy security. You don’t hear that so much anymore in the United States in comparison to a divorce that in the last two presidential state of the union addresses, in this administration, the last two in the previous administration, the president called for ending, or curbing, America’s reliance of foreign oil. Most people see that as code words for ending reliance on Arab and Islamic oil and gas. How did we get from the energy security to this divorce issue? Not divorce from driving or transportation, but just not driving or having transportation on Arab or Islamic oil or gas. And the implications of this, for the relationship, not just between the United States and Saudi Arabia, but the United States and other energy producers in the region.
Ambassador Al-Jubeir: Well I think this is the function of the political process in the United States. A lot of things take place and a lot of things happen and a lot of things are said during what many people in the U.S. call the “silly season”, so we can’t take it too seriously.
I think that the issue of oil is fungible. It doesn’t matter where it’s produced. It all goes into one theoretical or hypothetical pot and demand for oil takes oil out of this hypothetical pot and provides the supply. If you have a shortage of oil in one part of the world, it is going to have an impact on the price of gasoline in another part of the world.
So whether the United States imports all of its oil from the Middle East or none of its oil from the Middle East, it will have no impact on the price of oil or gasoline in the United States, should there be a crisis in the Middle East or elsewhere.
I think the people realize that the world oil supply is a finite resource. You can’t make it. Once you extract it, it’s gone. The world cannot rely on oil indefinitely as its major source of energy. And Saudi Arabia as the largest oil exporter and as the country with the world’s largest oil reserves, over a quarter of the world’s oil reserves, has been at the forefront for the past 30 years of calling for the development of alternative sources of energy, because we know that there will come a point—it could be 20 years, it could be 50 years, it could be 60 years from now—where the world’s energy needs or demands outstrip the ability of oil-producing countries to supply it. So the as the energy pie, so to speak, increases because of demand, the additional energy, we believe, ought to be supplied by alternative sources.
In order for those alternative sources to become economically viable we have to start now so that in 20 years they make economic sense. We are not afraid of alternate sources replacing oil. Quite the contrary, we believe that if you develop alternatives gradually, you will have a smoother transition away from oil.
In 1960, oil replaced coal as the primary source of energy in the world. And here we are, 50 years later, coal production has not decreased from where it was in 1960. But the energy pie, the energy requirements of the world have gone up and coal’s share of that pie has shrunk but coal production has not. So when people assume that oil producers are against alternative energy, I think that’s a fallacy. It will not affect us in the long run, it will not take away from out market share in the long run, our ability to produce, but it will make for a more stable transition in the future as the world moves away from the supply of energy.
So back to the original question: A lot of things are said during political campaigns. A lot of things are said in order to make headlines. A lot of things are said in order to be sensational and we have learned that we deal with the realities and we don’t deal with the emotions.