The agenda for the 2nd US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum in Atlanta was not all business. There was ample opportunity for discussions of diplomacy and foreign relations, especially the official ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia. One such instance was the joint appearance of Ambassadors from each country at the dinner following the first full day of the Forum. For the Saudi side the Ambassador to the United States, Mr. Adel Al-Jubeir, was not available for the Forum so his spot was ably filled by the Saudi Ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Abdullah Al-Mouallimi. He began his remarks with a humorous jab at the all too serious subject of charges against Iranian officials concerning a plot to kill Mr. Al-Jubeir. Mr. Al-Mouallimi mentions the case in his comments about Iran further in his remarks. We are providing a video excerpt from his press briefing at the United Nations about this topic from November 18, 2011 to provide background and context. Mr. Al-Mouallimi’s presentation on several subjects of interest to Saudi policymakers was followed by remarks from United States Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James B. Smith. His presentation is provided in a separate SUSRIS item. [Link]
The 2nd US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum in Atlanta was an unparalleled gathering of ministers and senior government officials and corporate and civic leaders from Saudi Arabia and the United States designed to increase understanding and business interactions between the two nations. The one thousand plus attendees, including over two hundred from Saudi Arabia, participated in the many well-organized panels and breakout sessions covering a broad range of high interest topics. The Forum was sponsored by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Commerce and Industry and organized by the: Committee for International Trade (CIT); the US-Saudi Arabian Business Council; and the Saudi-US Trade Group (SUSTG).
You can find much more about the 2011 Forum at the SUSRIS Special Section. [Link]
Ambassador Abdullah Y. Al-Mouallimi: Your Highness, Mr. Lieutenant Governor, Ambassador Smith, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen: it gives me great pleasure to be with you this evening standing in for my friend and colleague, Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir, the Kingdom’s Ambassador to Washington. I told Adel that I would be happy to fill in for him anytime, anywhere, but when it comes to assassination plots, you’re on your own. Fair deal? [Laughter and applause]
Having listened to some of the presentations today and yesterday, I feel that you all have had a pretty good dose of Saudi Arabia: its economy, business opportunities, health and education experience, and even some music last night. So I thought I would take you to some of the international issues affecting our region, and attracting the attention of our two nations in the weeks and months ahead.
Time is short, and we want to pace ourselves to Saudi “standard time,” which achieved for Saudi Arabia in two generations what others took centuries to do, Ambassador Smith. Therefore, I will limit myself to three fundamental issues: the Arab-Israeli conflict, relations with Iran, and turmoil in the Arab world.
Let me start with the Arab-Israeli conflict, which appears to be at a dangerous standstill. We have all followed Palestinian attempts to gain recognition and admission to the United Nations. Unfortunately, these efforts have been and continue to be frustrated, mainly by American objections. Our American friends say that the current standstill must be resolved through negotiations. The fact is that we have had no shortage of negotiations. Over the past two decades we’ve had them all, all kinds: secret negotiations, open negotiations, direct and indirect negotiations, proximity talks, grand conferences, you name it, and even private retreats in Camp David, Sharm el Sheikh, and other exotic locations. If anything, we’ve had too much negotiation.
Why have we achieved so little? Very simply because Israel wants to have its cake and eat it too.
Israel continues to occupy Palestinian territories, expand unlawful settlements, impose a blockade on Gaza, turning it into a one and a half million people’s prison, and then they say let’s talk while I keep doing all of that. That doesn’t work anymore. Israel would be well advised to use its overwhelming power to defend a just and lasting peace, rather than to enforce an unsustainable occupation. Israel would be well advised to turn the treaties it signed with President Mubarak and King Hussein into real peace with the peoples of the region. Israel would be well advised to accept the Arab Peace Plan, first introduced by King Abdullah, and later adopted by all Arab countries. A plan that extends a hand of peace and recognition to the state of Israel in return for an end to the occupation and prompt implementation of the two-state solution.
And the United States would be well advised not to frustrate Palestinian ambitions for self-determination and independence, a right that has been recognized by all countries of the world, including the United States itself. Instead of vetoing Palestinian membership in the United Nations, the United States should help Israel adapt to the realities of the 21st century and the new Middle East, and help end the very last occupation in the world, that of Palestine.
Let me now turn to Iran. And let me say at the beginning that we respect Iran as a neighbor and a major force in our region. We recognize its proud history and great civilization, and believe that Iran should have a leading place and play a constructive role as a member of the civilized community of nations.
We also acknowledge Iran’s right to develop nuclear energy for civilian purposes under the appropriate guidance of the relevant international organizations. But we reject Iranian attempts to exercise hegemony in the region, and we reject Iran’s interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries, from Lebanon to Yemen, and from Syria to Bahrain, and beyond. And we reject Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. We also deplore Iranian terrorist plots, including the latest ones aimed at the Saudi Ambassador in Washington, and the Saudi Ambassador in Bahrain.
This is why we introduced a United Nations General Assembly Resolution that condemned these plots, called upon Iran to cooperate with the investigation, and hand over culprits to justice. This resolution was passed with an overwhelming majority of 106 to 9. We continue to extend our hand of friendship, peace, and dialogue to Iran. We hope that the voice of wisdom will prevail, and that Iran will desist from its current course of reckless, fruitless, and ultimately dangerous behavior.
Finally, I will address the current turmoil in the Arab world. You may have noticed that I did not use the term “Arab Spring.” Spring carries with it images of blossoming roses, refreshing breeze, and everlasting sunshine. Unfortunately, the events in the Arab world have been far from this beautiful image. Let us hope and pray that this turmoil will bring about positive change and stability in all countries of the region.
Saudi Arabia has followed closely the events in the Arab world. We maintain a position of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. When the peoples of Tunisia and Egypt brought about a regime change, we respected their will, and rushed to provide massive economic assistance to help overcome the difficulties faced in both countries.
In Yemen and in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia responded to the calls of leaders and provided strategic, economic, and political assistance. Along with our partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council, we restored stability to Bahrain, protected it from external threats, and thereby gave its people an opportunity to find through dialogue and reconciliation a way forward from the crisis.
In Yemen, the GCC initiative was instrumental in getting all parties to sign a comprehensive agreement that allows for a peaceful transition towards a more democratic and representative system of government. In Libya, the GCC states were the first to call for a no-fly zone, thereby preventing Colonel Kaddafi from executing his threat to massacre the people of Benghazi “Zenga Zenga” as he said, or street by street.
In Syria, King Abdullah was the first to break the wall of silence in the Arab world about that country’s continuing tragedy. Saudi Arabia is still working through the Arab League to find a peaceful political solution that would protect the Syrian peoples’ aspirations for liberty and prosperity. As you can see, our plate has been full, and I would say thank God for Saudi Arabia.
Many people ask “will” the Arab Spring reach Saudi Arabia? And some ask more bluntly “when” will the Arab Spring reach Saudi Arabia? My answer is simple. We have had our spring. In 2005, and upon his accession to the throne, King Abdullah gave a comprehensive speech to the Shura Council in which he outlined his vision for wide-ranging reform in the Kingdom.
In 2009, two years before the turmoil in the Arab world began, King Abdullah gave a speech at the Arab Summit in Kuwait in which he urged Arab leaders to undertake major reforms, politically, economically, and socially. He told the summit that business as usual was not sustainable, and that the leaders should initiate reform before having it forced upon them.
Since 2005, King Abdullah has implemented his agenda for reform in the economy, education, judiciary, women rights, and expanded public participation in managing their affairs of state. In 2011, King Abdullah responded to popular demands for providing housing facilities, introducing unemployment benefits, creating more job opportunities, especially for women, and establishing a new agency for combating corruption.
Saudi Arabia might not have developed its democratic institutions to Western standards, but it is a country where citizens feel they have a voice, where hope for a better future for them and their children flourishes, where dignity is protected, and economic opportunity abounds. If that is not spring, I don’t know what is.
Thank you very much.
A presentation by U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James B. Smith followed. [Link Here]