Remarks by Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir at the Munich Security Conference
Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir
Munich Security Conference
Good morning everybody. It’s always a pleasure to be back in Munich.
The title of our session, I believe, was “Old Problems, New Middle East.” Our region, as I don’t have to tell you, is rife with turmoil. We have a crisis in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen, Libya. We have an Iran that is rampant in its support of terrorism and interference in the affairs of other countries. We face terrorism, we face piracy, we face challenges of economic development and job creation. We face challenges in terms of reforming our economies and countries and bringing the standard of living of our people to a higher level. We have the challenge of trying to bring peace between Israelis and Arabs. So other than that, I guess, our region is a wonderful place. (Laughter.)
But I am an optimist, as I always say, because if your job is to solve problems, you cannot be a pessimist. So we have to do everything we can in order to deal with the challenges that we face.
I believe that 2017 will be a year in which a number of the challenges will be resolved. I believe the crisis in Yemen will be brought to an end and the attempt to overthrow the legitimate government will have failed. We can then work on putting Yemen on the path of economic development and reconstruction. I believe progress can be made in the Arab-Israeli conflict. If there is a will to do so, we know what a settlement looks like, we just need the political will to do so. And my country stands ready with other Arab countries to work to see how we can promote that.
I believe that a political settlement in Syria is also possible.
One of the biggest factors, I think that will help to resolve many of these challenges is the new American administration. Yes, I am very optimistic about the Trump administration. I know there are a lot of concerns or questions in Europe about the new administration, but I like to remind my European friends that when Ronald Reagan was elected in 1982 [sic], there was a lot of concern in Europe. People thought World War III would take place. The famous song, “99 red balloons” - I’m sure many of you remember. And yet, how did it all turn out?
Ronald Reagan reasserted America’s place in the world. He made comprehensive arms control agreements with the Soviet Union, he pushed back against the Soviet Union and he ended the Cold War. I think it’s a wonderful history. I think when we look at the Trump administration, we see a President who is pragmatic and practical, a businessman, a problem-solver, a man who is not an ideologue, we see a man who has a certain view of the world. He wants America to play a role in the world.
Our view is that when America disengages, it creates tremendous danger in the world, because it creates vacuums and into these vacuums evil forces flow. And it takes many times the effort to push back against these evil forces than to prevent them from emerging in the first place.
He believes in destroying Daesh, so do we. He believes in containing Iran, so do we. He believes in working with traditional allies, so do we. And when we look at the composition of the Cabinet and the personalities that he appointed: Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, Secretary of Homeland Security, Director of the FBI, Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Treasury. These are very experienced, highly skilled, highly capable individuals who share that world view. So we expect to see America engaged in the world and we expect to see a realistic American foreign policy and we look forward to working with this administration very, very closely. Our contacts with the administration have been very positive and we are looking at how we can deal with the challenges facing our region and the world.
When I look at our region today, I see a challenge that emanates from Iran. I’m sure you have heard previous speakers talk about this challenge. Iran remains the biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world. Iran has as part of its constitution the principle of exporting the revolution. Iran does not believe in the principle of citizenship. It believes that the Shiite, the “dispossessed”, as Iran calls them, all belong to Iran and not to their countries of origin. And this is unacceptable for us in the Kingdom, for our allies in the Gulf and for any country in the world.
The Iranians do not believe in the principle of good neighbourliness or non-interference in the affairs of others. And this is manifested in their interference in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan. The Iranians have disrespected international law by attacking embassies, assassinating diplomats, by planting terrorist cells in other countries, by harbouring and sheltering terrorists.
In 2001, when the U.S. went to war against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the board of directors of Al-Qaeda moved to Iran. Saad bin Laden, Osama bin Laden’s son, Saif el-Adel the chief of operations for Al-Qaeda and almost a dozen senior leaders went and lived in Iran. The order to blow up three housing compounds in our nation’s capital in 2003 was given by Saif el-Adel while he was in Iran to the operatives in Saudi Arabia. We have the conversation on tape, it’s irrefutable. The Iranians have blown up Khobar Towers in 1996. They have smuggled weapons and missiles to the Houthis in Yemen in violation of UN Security Council resolutions in order to lock these missiles at our country and kill our people.
And so, we look at the region and we see terrorism, and we see a state sponsor of terrorism that is determined to upend the order in the Middle East. The Iranians are the only country in the region that has not been attacked by either Daesh or Al-Qaeda. And this begs the question, why? If Daesh and Al-Qaeda are extremist Sunni organisations, you would think that they would be attacking Iran, a Shiite state. But they have not. Could it be that there’s a deal between them that prevents them or causes them not to attack the Iranians? This is a question that we keep asking ourselves.
The Iranians talk about wanting to turn a new page, wanting to look forward, not backwards. This is great. But what do we do about the present? We cannot ignore what they are doing in the region. We cannot ignore the fact that their constitution, as I mentioned earlier, calls for the export of the revolution. How can one deal with a nation whose objective is to destroy us? So until and unless Iran changes its behaviour, and changes its outlook, and changes the principles upon which the Iranian state is based, it will be very difficult to deal with a country like this. Not just for Saudi Arabia, but for other countries.
We’re hopeful that Iran will change. We respect Iran’s culture, we respect the Iranian people. It’s a great civilization, it’s a neighbour of ours. We have to deal with them for many, many years. But it takes two to have a good relationship.
For 35 years, we have extended our arm in friendship to the Iranians, and for 35 years we have gotten death and destruction in return. This cannot continue. And so now we live with the world increasingly realizing the nature of the Iranian regime, that enough pressure can be brought to bear in order to bring about a change in Iran’s behaviour.
QUESTION, Moderator, Lyse Doucet, Chief Int’l Correspondent, BBC: Your Excellency, you set out very graphically what your country’s – what the Kingdom’s views on Iran are. Let me pick up your last point, that you are hopeful Iran will change. We heard from the Foreign Minister of Iran this morning Javad Zarif mentioning that the President of Iran has been to—as you know—Oman and to Kuwait. As you know, Kuwait is trying to mediate between your country and Iran. Iran has also offered in the last few days a political approach to resolving Yemen. Is this a beginning of a different approach to dealing with this huge fault line in the region?
MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: What we are looking for is actions, not words.
DOUCET: They would say these are actions-their visit—their President is visiting. They offered an initiative.
MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: And sending weapons to the Houthis and sending ballistic weapons to the Houthis in Yemen are actions. Saying things is one thing and doing something else is another. When the Iranians send weapons in violation of UN Security Council resolutions to the Houthis in Yemen, that’s an action. When the Iranians send Shiite militias to fight in support of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, that’s action. When the Iranians plant terror cells in Bahrain and in Saudi Arabia and other places, that’s action. The action is more important than the words.
DOUCET: So what action are you calling for? We had a very interesting session among U.S. Senators before this session, with Senator Graham saying, “Now is the time for Congress to act directly against Iran.” Others said we don’t want to get involved in what is a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. If President Trump was sitting where I’m sitting, what would you ask from him?
MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: To assert American leadership. To be engaged in the world. To work with allies. To be a force for good as America has always been.
DOUCET: Do you want sanctions? Do you want military pressure?
MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: With regards to-
DOUCET: With regards to this issue that you have said is the main threat in the region.
MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: I believe that the Iranians must understand that acting the way they have for the past 35 years is not acceptable. I believe that the Iranians must understand that the world will not let them get away with literally murder, and when they do their behaviour will change, but so far we haven’t seen a change in behaviour. And so the Iranians have violated the ballistic missile accords; the Iranians have stepped up the tempo of their mischief during the negotiations with the P5+1, and they continued to step it up after the agreement was signed. So this notion that an agreement is going to cause Iran to change its behaviour, we don’t see reflected in the facts.
DOUCET: So what are you calling for? More sanctions or more than that? What would you like to see happen in 2017 to resolve what you say is the main threat in the region?
MINISTER Al-JUBEIR: I don’t believe that Iran is an irrational actor. I think they are very rational. I believe that Iran knows where the red lines are if the red lines are drawn clearly. And I believe that the world has to make it clear to the Iranians that there are certain behaviors that will not be tolerated and that there will be consequences, and those consequences have to be in tune with what the violations are.
DOUCET: You mention two crises in the region that you hope will be resolved this year. Yemen and also Syria. Iran will have to be at the table for those two negotiations. Do you see the possibility of working with Iran to resolve two major crises in the region that are drawing on Saudi resources and energy and would do a lot to help the Kingdom, as well as the region, were they resolved?
MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: I believe Iran is part of the problem, not the solution. The Iranians can stop sending weapons to the Houthis. The Iranians can stop sending advisers from the Revolutionary Guards or from Hezbollah into Yemen. Iran has no business in Yemen. For 2,000 years, Iran has not put down one brick in the construction of Yemen, so why are they there? With regards to Syria, Iran has been a very destructive force. They have sent in Revolutionary Guards forces to prop up Bashar al-Assad. They have brought in Hezbollah from Lebanon. They have mobilized Shiite militias from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to fight in Syria. Why are they doing this?
DOUCET: People are warning that there’s such a danger of miscalculation and misunderstanding in an already volatile region. So much so, that many of you coming from Washington will know that there is talk in think tanks that this could be the year of—by mistake or by design—military action in the region against Iran. Maybe that is fake news. How many of you here have started worrying about that, worrying about that kind of escalation in the region, given what His Excellency has set out? How many of you are worried about the possibility of that kind of tension, possibly military action? Oh, just Mr. Lellouche. Only. Good. You are also worried. Let’s take a question from the floor.
QUESTION: Yemen is a war that has now lasted for much too long, and you mention the Iranian shipments of weapons to Houthis, but at the same time there’s a sense that the way the war is prosecuted in Yemen further inflames the conflict and that a diplomatic solution is needed, and that might be the beginning of a de-escalation between Iran and your country. What steps should be taken for that to happen?
MINISTER Al-JUBEIR: Let me give you a brief overview of what happened in Yemen. We had an uprising in 2011, 2012 against then-President Saleh. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with its partners in the GCC came up with the GCC Initiative that called for the transition from Saleh to a new government. President Hadi was made into president. The Yemeni people put together a national dialogue that included representatives from all different shades of Yemen—intellectuals, tribal leaders, women, young people—and they plotted a course for the future of Yemen—what kind of government they want, what kind of system they want, what kind of constitution they want—and they reached an agreement. They then proceeded to draft a constitution that would enshrine these principles. And while this was going on, the Houthis staged their coup by moving from Saada, to Amran, and then capturing the capital Sanaa, proceeding to take over the government, imprison the legitimate president, who then was able to escape to Aden. They then proceeded south, took over Taiz, then took over Aden. They surrounded the presidential palace, and the president asked for support, and based on the United Nations Charter and Security Council Resolution 2216, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and a coalition of countries responded to that request. That’s how it started. We didn’t start this war.
DOUCET: The question from Jean-Marie is—
MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: I’ll get to that in a second.
DOUCET: Because it can’t be good for Saudi Arabia, sir, as you know you’re coming under accusations of possible war crimes in the prosecution of the war. This must be a war that you want to get out of.
MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: Correct, but I’m just giving you the context so that you see where we’re coming from. We didn’t start this war. We didn’t want this war, and from day one we’ve said we want a solution based on the GCC Initiative, the outcomes of the National Dialogue, and UN Security Council Resolution 2216. We recognize the Houthis have a role to play in Yemen; they are Yemenis, but they cannot have a militia outside the state. They cannot be in possession of ballistic missiles. That’s not acceptable. So, we offered solutions. We worked with the international community. We worked with the quad, which then became the quint. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Great Britain, and America. We offered solutions. We offered roadmaps. More than 70 agreements were made that the Houthis accepted; not one of them they’ve implemented. And so we’re hopeful that with the increased military pressure and the fact that they’re now facing financial pressure because they looted the Central Bank of more than 2 billion dollars; they looted the pension fund. Pensioners in Yemen are no longer getting paid their pensions, and that between the economic pressure and the military pressure and the political pressure, they will come to the table and make a deal.
DOUCET: Okay. I think we have time for one more.
QUESTION: I agree with you that Iran is a revolutionary power, not just a revisionist power, but revolutionary. They don’t want a bigger piece of the cake, but they want to overturn the table. The last time the West dealt with a revolutionary power was the Soviet Union. What did the West do? It drew lines of containment and it manned them for about 45 years. Who would contain Iran, do you think? Russia? No, Russia is an ally. The old Arab states are gone—Iraq, Syria. The Europeans? Not so sure. Will the Americans build a wall of containment? So I’m going to stop here and ask you, how do we contain this revolutionary power of the 21st century?
MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: I think we should do it with 21st century means. It could be virtual containment, denying access to the banking system. Trade, travel—there are other ways of imposing sanctions or punishment on a country that doesn’t necessarily mean building a wall or having troops surrounding it. So there are ways the international community can make it very clear to Iran that its behaviour has to change. Eventually, every revolution comes to an end. The Iranian revolution is 37 years old, since 1979. Eventually, it has to come to an end. Iran has a young population; I am certain they want to be part of the world. I am certain they don’t want to be outcasts. I am certain they want a better life, and until the internal changes or dynamics in Iran happen that lead to a change in the way the system is, I think we will still have problems with Iran.
DOUCET: I’m afraid, the hands are going up, but I’m afraid we’re getting a red signal that we have to unfortunately end the session, but before you go, very brief—even a one-word answer. It’s now on the table, a call to Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, to join Israel in a coalition to fight against Iran. Is this a coalition you want to join?
MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: I don’t know. There have been talks about different coalitions. The issue is not physically fighting Iran. We’re hoping that Iran will change its behaviour so it can become an accepted member of the international community and become a productive and constructive member of the Middle East, and we’re waiting for the Iranians to do so. But until and unless they do this, we will have no choice but to push back against them.
DOUCET: Your Excellency, the Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Thank you very much for joining. You’re a pivotal player, and it’s really good that we hear from what you’re saying this morning.