John Abizaid on Saudi-US ties: ‘We have a good marriage’

US Ambassador John Abizaid with Saudi Arabia's Ibrahim Abdulaziz Al-Assaf. Abizaid has paid tribute to 75 years of Saudi-American ties. (SPA)
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Updated 13 February 2020

John Abizaid on Saudi-US ties: ‘We have a good marriage’

  • US ambassador says ‘we look forward to another 75 years of a great relationship’ between Washington and Riyadh

RIYADH: “We have a good marriage,” said US Ambassador John Abizaid, summing up Saudi-American ties during a roundtable discussion with journalists to mark the 75th anniversary on Feb. 14 of the historic meeting between King Abdul Aziz and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt on board the USS Quincy.

“This isn’t to say we’ve had the perfect marriage. We’ve had a normal marriage, more good than bad. But we look forward to another 75 years of a great relationship.”

The passage of time has naturally seen up and downs in the relationship, but since that meeting between Saudi Arabia’s founding monarch and the US president, Washington has been a steady strategic partner of Riyadh.

“Of course there are always fits and starts in any relationship, but we look to the future. We want to be your primary partner as you move forward in achieving the crown prince’s Vision 2030 goals,” Abizaid said. “We’re very confident that we can be your partner.”

Vision 2030 is built on three pillars — a vibrant society, a thriving economy and an ambitious nation — that draw on Saudi Arabia’s intrinsic strengths to help its citizens realize their aspirations and potential.

The National Transformation Program aims to develop governmental work and establish the needed infrastructure to achieve Vision 2030’s ambitions and 96 strategic objectives.

With the Kingdom opening up and businesses thriving, more countries want to take part in the transformation and help Saudi Arabia realize its reform objectives.

“We know we have to compete with the Chinese, the Russians, the French, the British and everybody else, but that’s OK because we’ve had a special partnership for so long,” Abizaid said.

“We’ve been through so many things together. We’re very comfortable that we can move through all the challenges that we have, and 75 years from now we’ll be having the 150th anniversary, so we look forward to that.”

Regarding the tourist e-visa that saw the Kingdom open its doors to visitors in October 2019, Abizaid said: “The last time I checked, we were in third place (in terms of the number of tourists). (In) first (position were) the Chinese.”

Pointing to the recent visit by a group of Americans from Houston, Texas, on tourist visas, he said: “They came for a cultural enrichment tour of Saudi Arabia. We shared with them some of our perspectives on what’s going on here. People are coming (to the Kingdom).”

With the coronavirus threat casting a long shadow over international air travel, tourism might not be at its peak right now, he said, adding: “Once we get past the coronavirus issue, I think you’ll see a pickup in American tourism.”

Abizaid said he is working with Princess Reema bint Bandar, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, to make sure more Americans get a chance to experience the Kingdom first-hand.

American tourists “come with an idea that’s shaped by some negative publicity,” but “they quickly see that people are friendly, people are extremely hospitable, that there are changes that are making Saudi Arabia a better place for its own people. And they leave impressed,” he added.

Looking to the future of Saudi-US ties, Abizaid said: “As we go into the next 75 years, we want there to be a more equal exchange of people.”

Currently, there are 40,000 Saudi students in the US and a very small number of American students in the Kingdom.

“Some of your universities have achieved extremely high levels of capability,” Abizaid said, citing King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST) as an example.

“It’s time that we bring in American students over here to study, learn the language, learn the culture.”

Abizaid spoke of commemorating the 75th anniversary of US-Saudi ties in a novel way. “I was at KAUST the other day. It’s a world-class university. See this theme of 75, (we’re) looking to get 75 Americans to come over in 2021 to be part of the experience of KAUST. We very much support that,” he said.


Saudi female lawyers praise Justice Ministry’s efforts to empower women

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Updated 49 min 10 sec ago

Saudi female lawyers praise Justice Ministry’s efforts to empower women

  • Compared to the previous status of women at the Justice Ministry, Al-Daknan said this latest step was a significant achievement

JEDDAH: Several Saudi female lawyers have praised the Justice Ministry’s decision to appoint 100 female notaries as a step forward for women’s legal empowerment.
“We appreciate Justice Minister Walid Al-Samani’s … rapid steps toward empowering women to work in all available jobs, considering them viable components of society, particularly in the justice sector,” lawyer Njnood Qasim told Arab News.
She added: “We hope that it will be the beginning of an important and most anticipated step, which is the appointment of a Saudi woman as a judge.”
Qasim noted that many qualified women have been recruited by the Justice Ministry for the first time in history to work in the fields of law, Shariah, sociology, administration and technology.
Lawyer Rana Al-Daknan, meanwhile, said she thought women could fill any role in society. “An ambassador, an undersecretary, a minister, but I think no woman should be a minister before women become judges,” she told Arab News.
Compared to the previous status of women at the Justice Ministry, Al-Daknan said this latest step was a significant achievement, but added: “Of course we are looking for more, though that does not mean we should not appreciate this step.”

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The newly appointed female notaries will officially start their work next Sunday with a specialized training program lasting three months.

Al-Daknan explained that women first began obtaining notary licenses in 2018, and the services they offer include documentation, transferring property, authorizing powers of attorney submissions and other services.
“The next step for women is working with conciliation committees, which is known in other countries as being a magistrate. Thankfully it is possible now for both men and women to obtain conciliation licenses, where they will assume the role of the judge,” Al-Daknan said. “I personally have applied and (am) in the process to obtain this license.”
Another lawyer, Abrar Shaket, told Arab News that this move was the natural result of the Kingdom’s steps to empower its female citizens under King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.