April 2, 2012

The ambassador’s speech

Arab news

The ambassador’s speech

I received an invitation to attend the US Independence Day Celebration at the Consulate in Dhahran. Attending the event were artists, entertainers, entrepreneurs, business owners, government officials, exchange program alumni, educators and students.

The ambassador’s speech was friendly and to the point. Ambassador James B. Smith said, “this is a holiday that helps us put into perspective the historic relationship between our two people in so many fields, and how much our two countries rely on one another.” The ambassador assured us that the US has been our partner, remains our partner, and will continue to be our partner for generations to come.

I agree with the ambassador that US-Saudi strategic partnership has endured many challenges over the years and is essential to successfully manage a variety of issues both countries face now and will face in the future. About six months ago, Carnegie Endowment hosted various panel discussions to analyze these challenges. There was 1973 oil embargo, the Iranian revolution, Sept. 11, and counterterrorism to name a few.

As far as current events are concerned, Saudi Arabia and the US agree on how to handle the situation in Syria. Before heading for Istanbul to attend the 60-nation gathering of the “Friends of the Syrian People” aimed at finding ways to aid Syria’s opposition, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made sure to stop over in Riyadh last Friday to talk with King Abdullah and other Saudi officials. Both Saudi Arabia and the US aim to push for humanitarian aid for the Syrian people which would ultimately lead to further isolation of Assad’s regime.

However, there is a lot that need to be done by both countries to continue being close allies. The ambassador mentioned as examples, educating all our children to compete in a global economy, generating jobs for coming generations, containing the threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, subduing terrorism, finding international energy solutions that strengthen our economies while making us better stewards of our environment, and ensuring prosperity and welfare for our people.

It is no secret that the business and commercial relationship is extremely important to both Saudi Arabia and the US. Trade between the two countries rose to $16.6 billion, a jump of 20 percent over 2010. The ambassador indicated that he would be personally leading a 60-plus member Saudi delegation to Houston next month. I’m not surprised, prior to his appointment; Ambassador Smith had served in a variety of executive positions with Raytheon Company involving corporate strategic planning, aircraft manufacturing and international business development.

After Smith was sworn in as ambassador to Riyadh on Sept. 16, 2009, he said in an interview “As ambassador, I will actively promote trade and investment between Saudi Arabia and the United States.” I have no doubt that Smith’s trip to Houston as a diplomat with the Saudi delegation will be as successful as his records show while being in the air force and in business.

It is also obvious that there’s an increase in educational cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the US. We have tens of thousands of Saudi students attending universities in the US. It is worth mentioning that three prominent American universities, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University started five-year partnerships, worth $25 million or more, with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).

I hope the ambassador’s speech would help change the attitude of certain US politicians against Saudi Arabia. To be more specific, we were surprised that ex-Florida Senator, Bob Graham, and former Nebraska Senator, Bob Kerrey, said in sworn affidavits to a New York court in early March they were certain of the links between the Saudi government and the attacks. The two gentlemen should know by now that Saudi Arabia is leading the fight against terrorism. In addition, the 9/11 commission’s final report found no evidence that the Saudi government is related directly or indirectly with the attack on the twin towers in 2011.

Tweet: Mr. James B. Smith response to a question at the start of his assignment as ambassador to Saudi Arabia: “It would be unwise for me to begin my tenure by predicting the future.. ..that’s a fool’s exercise.”

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