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.


Houthis are ‘threat’ to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the entire region

A houthi rebel fighter holds his a weapon during a gathering aimed at mobilizing more fighters for the Houthi movement, in Sanaa, Yemen, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. (AP)
Updated 21 September 2020

Houthis are ‘threat’ to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the entire region

  • Five civilians injured in lastest attack at village in Jazan

JEDDAH: Houthi militias in Yemen are continuing to break international humanitarian law by targeting civilians in Saudi Arabia.
In its latest attacks on Saudi terrority, the group launched a projectile at a village in the southern Jazan region on Saturday. Five people were injured and property was damaged.
The Iran-backed militia has attacked Saudi Arabia’s territory, killing and injuring civilians in the process, since the start of the war in 2015, often to international condemnation.
“The Kingdom has tackled many Houthi attacks, which included ballistic missiles and drones that were originally intended to target civilians,” political analyst and international relations expert Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News. “If it wasn’t for the Kingdom’s instant response they would have caused very big damage.”
Al-Shehri said that a group like the Houthis were not expected to act differently, other than be violent and destructive. He pointed the finger at the international community for its silence as well as countries that have lifted an arms ban on Iran.
“The recently apprehended Houthi cell in Yemen smuggling Iranian weapons has admitted to receiving training in Iran, evidence of Iran’s continued involvement in Yemen. Therefore, this makes the US unilateral proclamation to reinforce UN sanctions against Iran the right thing to do now.”
Al-Shehri added that the militia was an organization whose activities would still endanger the lives of Yemeni civilians even if they did not harm neighboring countries. “They use cities as a shield and launch their rockets from inside Sanaa, among civilians.”
He said that the international community, as part of its responsibility to maintain global peace and security, was required to spare Yemenis the agony and scourge of war by implementing UN Security Council Resolution 2216 and bring the Houthis back to the negotiation table for an inclusive political solution.
“The Houthis are a threat to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the entire region as long as weapons remain in their hands,” Al-Shehri said.
The attack in Jazan was condemned by Egypt, Jordan and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
The OIC secretary-general, Yousef Al-Othaimeen, affirmed the organization’s standing and solidarity with the Kingdom in all the measures it took to protect its borders, citizens, and residents on its territory.