Welcome to KSA, President Obama

Welcome to KSA, President Obama

When people talk about the Saudi-American relationship, they always refer to the 1945 Valentine’s Day meeting of King Abdul Aziz and President Franklin D. Roosevelt aboard the USS Quincy. This was certainly a moment of great importance and of great authenticity in our friendship, but our relationship goes back further and deeper.
When representatives of Standard Oil of California started arriving in the 1930s, they came as explorers with an open mind. We did not know much about each other, but American values and the American character were naturally close to our traditions of welcoming guests, of simplicity, keeping an open mind and learning from others. We appreciated the energy, the honesty and the simplicity of Americans marked by a younger and fresher history than Europe, approaching us as equals not as a people to be ruled or dominated. And it is in this spirit of trust, honesty, energy and frankness that we welcome you, Mr. President, as our esteemed guest in Saudi Arabia.
Those who left Europe and founded the United States of America possessed a true frontier spirit requiring constant learning, adaptation and experimentation. In our quest for survival we sometimes make mistakes, but we go back and adjust them to prosper in the future. Essential also in this approach is possession of a strong moral code and compass that provide a sense of direction, a sense of community and of coexistence. From our long tribal history in the desert to the appearance of our warrior King Abdul Aziz, who was the first to unite the Arabian Peninsula, we learned very much the same lessons. Our king brought tribal warriors who fought each other for survival and understood little about each other to live together in tolerance and interdependence, building a Kingdom that was greater than the sum of its parts. The shared values of honesty, simplicity, determination and the capacity to correct our own mistakes have brought us Saudis and Americans together. We grew fond of the Americans who came to explore oil in the 1930s and they fascinated us with their culture and surprises. That mutual enthralment continues to this day.
When I was a student at Berkeley, my professor Eugene Burdick co-authored the novel The Ugly American, which became a bestseller and taught the world about that American quality of curiosity, honesty and your can-do attitude. President Roosevelt’s relationship with King Abdul Aziz was very much along those lines. The WWII interrupted the flow of oil, but it did not interrupt our relationship. After the death of President Roosevelt, differences in our special relationship began to appear. Such differences are of course important in any friendship, recognizing that we will not see eye-to-eye on every question, but that we can be honest about our differences and remain focused on everything that we share.
America’s unwavering support for Israel was difficult for us to understand, but when it came to fighting Communism we remained the strongest and most effective of allies. We sent our children to die fighting that nihilistic concept, and we succeeded alongside our American friends. I cannot recall any Israeli soldier dying while fighting the Communists in Afghanistan.
Our differences over Israel and Palestine of course remain. To our great disappointment, when then Crown Prince Abdullah launched his comprehensive peace initiative toward Israel, signed by all 22 Arab countries, the US did not lean enough on Israel to even respond to a peace initiative that offered full peace and diplomatic relations along the lines accepted by the international community. It is a regret that pursues us until this day. New differences emerged also over our mutual approaches to Iran. We applauded the results of US negotiations with Iran, putting a stop to their nuclear ambitions, but we remain wary about what comes next. Iran has made it a habit of meddling in Arab affairs throughout the region to gain influence and leverage at the expense of local populations and a rising sectarianism they have instilled.
This is absolutely an unacceptable behaviour for any neighbour of ours, and we hope that America will stand with us against any such interference by Iran. The nuclear threat has not entirely disappeared, as terrorists continue to try to get their hands on nuclear material. We must remain vigilant to ensure that never again will we see nuclear weapons used against another people. On Iran we also count on your new relationship with the Iranians to reinforce our message to them that we welcome Iran back to the world as a normal country, ready to trade, exchange and engage with us. None of us however can accept an Iran that continues to meddle in the affairs of its Arab neighbors and stokes the fires of sectarianism. We respect Iran’s ancient Persian civilization, we respect them as neighbors, and we respect them as our Muslim brothers. Those who think that the issue is one of Sunni against Shiite are sorely mistaken. After all, we offered peace to a Jewish state, our King Abdullah launched a UN-sanctioned Interfaith Dialogue between religions, and we have been trying to encourage tolerance between all religions, including different interpretations of Islam. You find no less Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman in his commitment to peace in all fronts.
As you can see Mr. President, our friendship is a solid, durable and honest one. Our ability to communicate openly, to admit our differences, and to work together on the basis of a shared sense of justice are our strongest assets. In fact, America’s greatest strength is not its army but its moral compass and sense of justice. The American ability to build bridges, to encourage dialogue and to downplay differences will continue to serve your country best. As your friends, we want to see you apply these strengths in pushing for a peace between Israelis and Palestinians that finally provides Palestinians with their state and their full rights as human beings. We want you to remain persuasive with the Iranians to ensure that they stop meddling in the region and fanning sectarian flames, building bridges to their Arab neighbors instead, as we are building a bridge to Egypt. We would also like to build a bridge of respect, of commerce and compromise to Iran. As President John F. Kennedy said: “We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light a candle that can guide us through the darkness to a safe and sure future.” We count on you Mr. President to keep that candle of justice burning for the sake of America’s future and that of the world. No better partner for this giant step then King Salman of Saudi Arabia.
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