Why US-Saudi relations will stand the test of time - Kogonuso

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Feb 14, 2019

Why US-Saudi relations will stand the test of time

Although US-Saudi relations may have been shaky in recent times, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, chairman of the board at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, expressed optimism about their future evolution.
Appearing at the Milken Institute MENA Summit in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, Prince Turki spoke of the history of the relationship, which dates back to the 19th century.
“In perspective, they go back a long time and, in that time, we have had our ups and downs, and we have agreed on some things and disagreed on others,” he said. “It’s one of those times when there has been a lot of hype about the relationship, especially in the media and in the US following issues like (the killing of Jamal) Khashoggi, the war in Yemen and others.”
From a Saudi perspective, he argued that the strategic interest of both countries would override whatever current issues have risen. “From that context, the Kingdom’s steadfast and very rock-solid engagement with the US in the last 70-odd years has weathered equally difficult times,” he said. “Not only on the Palestinian issue, the Ramadan War in 1973 and the oil embargo, but also 9/11 and Bin Laden, and yet, we’ve had a constant number of American expatriates living in Saudi, from 25,000 to 30,000 over the years.”


Today, the US hosts more than 100,000 Saudis as a result of the education program that the late King Abdullah launched a few years ago. Aside from business interests – and the US’ position as Saudi’s largest investor — Prince Turki described such links as equally strategic and important because they brought people together. He expressed hope that representatives in the US Senate and Congress would see Saudi “for what it is,” and not for what the media made it out to be.
Speaking on the Khashoggi investigation, he said the Kingdom had taken those considered responsible for the “vicious and heinous crime” to court.
“The court procedures in Saudi are well-defined, and they are known to US representatives in Riyadh. Let that take its course. For many years, Americans and others used to (say) the Kingdom did not have a sound system and now, they ask us to interfere in the judicial system, so make up your mind.”
He said Saudi respected its system as well as the system of others, adding that the courts would decide and, whatever they decided, the Executive Authority would implement it. “It could have been handled better, and there have been mistakes committed,” he explained.
“We have admitted those mistakes, we clarified our position on that, we arrested the people suspected of doing those mistakes, and we can go on from there.”

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BACKGROUND
Organizer: The Milken Institute, founded by American financier Michael Milken, is a think tank that believes the key to global prosperity includes access to education and health care.
Theme: Navigating a World in Transition: Strategic Investment for Sustainable Growth
Other Saudi speakers: Yasir Othman Al-Rumayyan, managing director and member of the board, Public Investment Fund (PIF); Minister of State Mohammed Al-Sheikh, chairman of the Capital Market Authority

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In terms of the US policy in the Middle East, Prince Turki said that the US had defined important objectives in the region. “From day one, US President Donald Trump declared he wanted to reach a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he described it as the deal of the century. And I hope he comes through with that. I don’t know the terms of the deal or if anyone else knows, but there have been engagements with leaders of the Arab world on the issue.”
He mentioned Trump’s declaration of identifying Iran as the major instigator of unrest in the region, and his will to change its course of action through sanctions and other measures, including the withdrawal from the nuclear deal.
“Those are things that Saudi definitely supports and would like to see happen,” he said. “On other issues, I wouldn’t want to see the US withdrawing from our part of the world because it has interests here, not just financial and business, but also on humanitarian terms. The long history of US engagement goes back to the 19th century, and it’s for everybody to see.”
From the American University in Beirut to the American University in Cairo, the launch of some of these institutions from the 19th century was said to reveal the amount of interaction between the US and the Arab world.
Prince Turki said Arab countries felt at rest and developed a trust for the US when it stood by them during Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. “It was with the US’ help and support that we managed to get that issue settled positively. The US shed blood in our part of the world, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively, but the positives are there to see, so we’d like to keep the US engaged in our part of the world and a withdrawal only allows for malevolent forces to come in.”
A US withdrawal from Syria, he said, would entail Iran’s expansion of its influence in the country, which contradicted the Trump administration’s intention of pushing Iranians out of Syria. “It’s a huge disappointment on a personal level. I remember when the US invaded Iraq, and the same applies to Syria. It will have worse consequences.”
Asked about Iran’s presence in the nuclear deal, he said it made no difference as its actions on the ground were very negative and have not changed. “(The expansion) of Iran’s nuclear program would be a concern for Saudi. And the only way you can deal with that is to continue to sanction Iran as Trump has done.”
But issues across the region at large remained. Although Prince Turki did not foresee any potential Saudi-Israeli engagement, he said the Palestinian issue was at the top of the agenda for the Kingdom.
“There is a much broader issue of problems in the Middle East, and the Palestinian one is a big issue. A solution to the crisis must be a priority for the region and the world.”

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BY THE NUMBERS

1,000 attendees
150 speakers
40 sessions

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Prince Turki described himself as a realist, taking issues in the region on a “day-to-day” basis. Some potential achievements he named for this year could include a breakthrough with the deal of the century and Iran changing its course in the region. His main optimism, however, lay with Saudi’s Vision 2030 reform plan and the transformations taking place across the Kingdom.
“With all of the criticism that it has acquired since its announcement (in 2016), it has proven to be a very viable and durable look into the future. When the king and crown prince announced the vision, they clearly said it was a not divine revelation. It can be altered, reviewed, diminished and increased, and that’s what has been happening. Timetables have changed.” 
His main take from it was that it had enthused Saudi citizens — and not just the 70 percent under the age of 30. “I’m not of that demographic, and I’m equally enthused on what the vision has promised and what I see the government is doing. The two aspects that give me hope are that government departments have become more accountable on what they do in the Kingdom than ever before, and our financial institutions, especially the Ministry of Finance and the budgeting system in Saudi, have become much more transparent.”
He described the presence of quarterly reports on how government departments were performing, in terms of spending funds allocated to them by the ministry. “That, to me, is an indication that there is seriousness in wanting to accomplish what Vision 2030 has promised.
Overall, Prince Turki said he was optimistic about the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the US in the year ahead. “We’re much closer than ever before, and we’re setting an example as two countries, especially in the Gulf, that have overcome the challenges that have kept us apart in the past, and we’re seeking to come together. Hopefulness will include issues of resolving the difference we have in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) especially with the leadership in Qatar that has so far refused to engage on a positive scale with complaints placed on the table.
“In terms of human relations, I’m very hopeful that my grandchildren will have a much better world to look up to because they have the tools, which is the mobile phone – it has everything in it and, when I was growing up, we had to aspire to get to libraries, listen to teachers and read books, but you can get it all from that little machine today, and I hope it will be a positive factor in allowing my grandchildren in having a better life.”https://www.geezgo.com/sps/53921

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