JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States has welcomed the election of a new president, saying that he “prefers action” over speeches from a new administration in Washington.
In a wide-ranging interview with Arab News, Prince Abdullah bin Faisal bin Turki said that he sees the “extensive relationship” between the two countries continuing.
Republican candidate Donald Trump on Wednesday emerged as the 45th president of the United States, after a bitter election that divided America — and the world.
“We welcome anybody elected in any government,” Prince Abdullah said.
Trump is expected to be sworn in as president in January. But the ambassador said that there was no specific “to-do list” when it came to addressing issues with the new administration.
“We have a continuing list and continuing effort that I hope (is) up to the challenge. It’s just hard work, and better work, and more institutionalized work,” Prince Abdullah said.
In a separate statement, the ambassador said the Saudi-US relationship is “very solid and is growing deeper in all areas, irrespective of who is in the White House.”
“The relationship has flourished in the areas of defense cooperation, countering terrorism and violent extremism, educational and cultural exchange, as well as trade and commerce, and we expect that the United States, and specifically major US corporations will play a major role as we embark on achieving the goals of our Vision 2030 plan.
“It is important to note that the two countries successfully navigated various challenges throughout the history of our relationship, from countering Soviet expansion, to the liberation of Kuwait, to fighting Al-Qaeda and Daesh (ISIL) side by side. We might at times differ on certain tactics, which is normal between close allies and friends. However, our overall objectives remain aligned, and we look forward to continuing our work with the next administration.”
In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Prince Abdullah described what the future holds for Saudi-US relations.
Q: President Obama gave his famous Cairo Speech after being elected. What would you like to see in a potential Cairo Speech 2.0 from the next president?
A: Speeches are fine, they give the general public hope. But what we normally prefer is actual action. Ambassadors do not write policy, they implement and present it. So I have to wait for my ministry to give us the targets to work on regarding policies.
Q: The relationship between Saudi Arabia and Obama has been quite bumpy. Do you think there’s hope with a new administration?
A: There were a few things, yes. But the basic premise has not changed … Of course you cannot always have smooth sailings with others on important international issues. And the other thing is, we in the Middle East, must accept that other people have their own interests. All of this needs hard, solid, comprehensive, institutional work, and not announcements that sound good and make people clap for you on social media. There is a lot of solid work that needs to be done. For us and other Arab countries, they really have to do the political work and public opinion work — we cannot shift and blame others. This is lacking for the whole area.
Q: You’ve said that there are some “not very favorable” things said in the media about Saudi Arabia. But do people have a point — are there issues that Saudi Arabia needs to address?
A: I think sometimes they just use (Saudi Arabia as) the nearest shooting target, rather than work at it. Also I think our responsibility here (is) to make the public’s opinion a lot better.
Q: Do you think Saudi Arabia will be opening up more for investment, including that from the US?
A: Yes, of course… The future is good because the market is very big, it has a good track record in the past. There is a very good regulator of banks, in protecting people’s money. But it has to do things like internationally known, mature economies. But I reckon if we speed up the economic openings, you’ll see good results that will benefit a lot of people.
Q: When do you see the war in Yemen ending, and what’s your response to claims over Saudi Arabia’s use of weapons there?
A: The military activities by Saudi Arabia in the Yemen coalition were not done for fun, the military having nothing to do and saying, “Let’s do this.” It is basically to attack elements that are causing death and destruction on our southern border, and beginning to stop them from taking over Yemen. Imagine a small militia, suddenly is talking to the whole world about sharing power. It is not like we suddenly decided to pick on them, but then they started doing what they are doing in Yemen. We felt it is not good, it was against the legitimately elected president; it was done against the agreed GCC initiative. And then they start attacking our borders. So, what else (were we supposed to do) — sit and wait for the Iranians to be merciful?
Q: When do you think the war may be over?
A: There has to be a political solution and we had announced this and we are working very hard. (The Houthis) are playing games, these warlords… are just enjoying the ride. And it’s remarkable that this is happening. It is not something that we like to do for fun. And we have to live with out brethren in Yemen forever.
Q: Some say Islamophobia is on the rise in the US — what’s your view on what can be done about it?
A: Unfortunately it does exist in a number of places… Generally, it is our duty in the Muslim world to work hard to improve the image of Muslims as individuals, as a religion, and Muslim societies in various countries.
Q: What would your key message to the new US president be in terms of advancing relations with Saudi Arabia?
A: All we want is people who serve their country and its real interest in the Middle East in the long run. To have a special understanding of the problems facing some of these societies that you have to deal with in the Muslim world.