Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. My goal in today’s presentation is to present to you a tour d’horizon, as ship captains have called it for centuries. To conduct a tour d’horizon is to take a 360 degree look around you to assess the current weather conditions. Where there is calm, and where there are storms? And then, once the tour d’horizon has been taken, the captain turns his eyes to his ship – what is the condition of the vessel as it prepares to set off for the horizon?
Through this assessment a ship captain can then determine the best way to guide his vessel safely to port. So I shall conduct my own tour d’horizon to assess how Saudi Arabia – my Ship of State – may go safely into a prosperous future.
As you well know, the Middle East has entered a phase of profound transition, with governments crumbling, new social forces emerging, partnerships re-aligning, and international tensions
– some quite old, some fairly recent – mounting and requiring re-assessments from all policy angles. However, while the general picture of Saudi Arabia’s surroundings is predominated by this great turmoil, at the center of these many storms sits our Kingdom, which, I am glad to report, remains stable and secure thanks to the wise leadership of King Abdullah, a rising nationalism among the people, the continued investment of our government in infrastructure and security, and economic policies that have blessed our land with economic growth, budget surpluses and over $550 billion in foreign reserves. This is not to say that the Kingdom is without its challenges, both from within and from outside its borders, but as I outline for you the various whirlwinds that mount upon our horizon, I also encourage you to keep in mind that the vantage point from which I view these storms is safe and sound and has every intention of using its vast resources to help its neighbors weather the current difficult conditions.
First and foremost among these storms are the political changes occurring in a host of Arab nations. While Saudi Arabia recognizes the will of all people to determine their nation’s leadership and accepts and in many cases supports the developments in its neighboring countries, the Kingdom must remain focused on the difficult realities that almost always follow social upheaval based on idealistic visions. Egypt and Tunisia, the lands from which the so-called Arab Spring first blossomed, have now entered stages of dangerous and difficult reorganization. Both countries’ economies are in free-fall and opportunistic political forces and groups are poised to significantly increase their power through upcoming elections there. Civil war in Libya and escalating violence in Yemen have cost thousands of lives and set back development by decades, and the situation remains highly unpredictable. The situation in Bahrain seems to have stabilized for the time being, but problems could flare up again. And in Syria, a society now sits on the edge of an abyss of nightmarish internecine warfare, which could spill into Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.
While these tenuous national conditions are of relatively recent emergence, several older problems – storms that have been brewing for some time, as it were – exist, and their outcomes appear equally difficult to determine. First among these, and intimately linked with the difficulties many Arab nations are now facing, is the case of Iran. There are three issues with the leadership of Iran–their ambition to acquire nuclear weapons, the occupation of the islands belonging to the United Arab Emirates, and their persistent meddling in the affairs Arab nations. As for the issue of nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia continues to insist that Iran and Israel should give up the acquisition of nuclear weapons and support the creation of a Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East. This is clearly what is best for the future of the people of the world. And to convince Iranian leaders and Israel of this path, we fully support the tightening of sanctions, assertive diplomacy, and concerted action via the United Nations.
On the second issue, Saudi Arabia supports the United Arab Emirates in its legitimate and just efforts to retrieve their islands from Iran through the International Court of Justice. There can also be no flexibility. Iranian leaders must also stop attempting to influence the direction Arab governments take by funding non-state entities like Hamas, Hezbollah, and various Shiite militias. As Saudi Arabia looks out at Iran and considers what is to come in the next decade, it can only hope that the people of that nation will encourage their leaders to take a wiser and safer route than the one they now seem bent upon traveling, much to the detriment of themselves and others.
Another storm of far longer gestation than the recent uprisings – a situation that lies at the center of so many difficulties faced by our region – is the plight of the Palestinian people. Today is an especially exciting moment for me as it offers the opportunity to speak on the issue in the direct aftermath of an important historical turning point in the conflict. I am speaking, of course, of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s official request on Friday to the Secretary General of the United Nations that the United Nations accept as a full member the State of Palestine. Because of this request, the diplomacy that has preceded it, the discussions that have surrounded it and the misunderstandings that have clouded its truths, there has rarely been a more important time to clarify the situation and come to a fair and just assessment of the right and necessary things to do.
As former US President Jimmy Carter recently said, “the persecution of the Palestinians under the occupation forces is one of the worst examples of human rights deprivation.” And while many similar claims and counter-claims have been expressed on this issue, the path to peace is clear. King Abdullah’s forthright Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 laid the groundwork for an end to hostilities: if the Israelis withdraw from occupied lands, including East Jerusalem, to their pre-June 4, 1967 boundaries and address the refugee situation through mutual agreement, Saudi Arabia and the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation will commence normal and peaceful relations with Israel. And on the all-important issue of statehood, Saudi Arabia stands behind those UN member nations who wish to make an official UN declaration recognizing the state of Palestine and believes with them that Palestinian statehood is not a matter of if, but now.
Finally, when it comes to difficulties facing our region, one must still admit that terrorism remains an important threat. But it is not just Al Qaeda that continues to plot against us. There are also various emerging and re-emerging non-state actors who are moving in to take advantage of power vacuums created by shifting political dynamics. With governance in Yemen, Libya, Tunis, Egypt, Syria and other nations in such tenuous states, the perfect conditions for terrorist cells to take root and conduct desperate, evil and anarchical acts are created. This is why Saudi Arabia continues to work with its allies, wherever it can find them, to stamp out this scourge of individuals who feel it is their right to visit heinous violence upon others in the name of false and destructive ends. I am glad to see that Saudi Arabia’s proposal for the establishment of an international counter terrorism center has been adopted by the United Nations and that King Abdallah has already contributed ten million dollars as seed capital for the operation of the center.
All of these storms – Arab nations facing turmoil and violence, Ahmadinajad’s regional aggressiveness, the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the creation and exploitation of terrorist enclaves – share a common thread in that they deeply influence the general state of security and stability in the region, and when one is discussing security and stability in the Middle East, one inevitably comes to the issue of global energy. This is primarily due to the importance of Saudi Arabia to the planet’s energy supply, but also due to several other factors. Gulf states remain important suppliers of oil. Pipelines and shipping lines run throughout the region, crossing areas of great contention and conflict. The perceived stability of the region plays an important role in oil markets and their influence on pricing, which inevitably effect almost every economy in the world.
So, as we look out onto the wider horizon of the global energy market through the storm clouds of the Middle East, what do we see? Again, we see transition. As most of you well know, Europe and the United States remain important energy consumers, but Asia is coming to play an ever larger role in global demand. Also, almost every nation is looking to diversify its energy mix to take advantage of alternative fuel sources, both to foster energy independence and to prevent negative environmental effects. But from the Saudi perspective, it is not about energy independence, but about energy inter-dependence, both for the good of our economies and our environment. So what we see, if only through the eyes of hope, are the wiser voices in each nation winning out and encouraging their governments to work together to guarantee an energy mix that comes from a variety of stable sources. And obviously Saudi Arabia means to play a major role in helping them achieve that.
This leads me to my final topic – Saudi Arabia itself – for inevitably every tour d’horizon must be followed by an assessment of the ship’s conditions so that the captain may know of what it is capable given the current weather patterns. And I am happy to report that our Ship of State is in quite good sailing condition. With 25 percent of the world’s oil reserves and over 70 percent of global spare capacity, current projections for the next five years estimate that the Kingdom will earn on average of about $250 billion in oil revenue per year (for 2011, the projection is almost $300 billion). In addition, the Kingdom has approximately $550 billion in foreign reserves, a sum it plans to steadily increase.
To maintain current oil export levels while at the same time fulfilling its growing domestic energy needs, the government is investing heavily in solar technology, and will spend more than $100 billion to build at least 16 nuclear power plants across the Kingdom. Solar energy will fill the gap in the short term, satisfying some incremental domestic energy needs, and within a decade, plans call for nuclear power to play the leading role in augmenting oil as a source of domestic energy. Thus, Saudi Arabia will be able to fuel the growth of its burgeoning economy without significantly reducing its oil exporting capability.
I am also glad to report that Saudi Arabia’s oil producing infrastructure has proven, and will continue to prove, immune to attack. This is not only due to the billions spent in security and surveillance, but also due to the creation of a 35,000 strong facilities security force. These troops come from across the Kingdom and are receiving extensive training through a U.S. technical assistance program. This specialized force, which did not exist before 2005, has the exclusive responsibility of guarding all energy installations against both internal and external threats.
In relation to the political storms addressed above, Saudi Arabia, as the birthplace of Islam and the leader of the Muslim and Arab worlds, has a unique responsibility to become involved in whatever way is prudent, fair and beneficial to help those states now experiencing ill weather to arrive at a place of internal political stability. And it has every intention of carrying out that responsibility for the good of all; not only through diplomacy, advisory missions and financial support, but also through a more robust foreign policy directed toward fulfilling its role as the regional leader.
But none of Saudi Arabia’s efforts would bear fruit were they not emanating from a nation that has made great efforts, and I am proud to say has succeeded in those efforts, to create a nation that is stable and secure. The reasons for this are many. Over the last couple of decades our government has undertaken a series of reform measures – in education, in citizen participation, as announced yesterday by the King that women will not only become members of the Shura Council, but they will also vote in and be elected to the municipal councils, in security, in economic policy – that have born bountiful fruit in that one can now find among our population a rising tide of nationalist sentiment that is binding the country together ever more firmly. One recent and telling bit of evidence for this national unity can be found in the recent so called “Day of Rage” that was given much press in the Western media. Purported to be a day in which wide spread protests would engulf the Kingdom, no protests in fact ever materialized. Indeed, unlike almost every one of its neighbors, the Kingdom is experiencing its own Saudi Spring in which patriotism and national commitment are flourishing.
And now it is time to conclude my tour d’horizon in order that I may get back to my position as a crewmember of the Saudi Ship of State. My analysis has emphasized the storms, and perhaps given too little attention to the calm. Yes, Saudi Arabia remains at the eye of these storms, serene and consistent in its position as the leader of the Arab world, but among the storms taking place in other countries there are major glimmers of a coming calm. I believe that the people in those nations that have seen so much turmoil, God willing, and certainly with the assistance of Saudi Arabia, will work out their differences and arrive at safe shores. I believe that the terrorists will have a difficult time remaining hidden and that antiterrorist measures – much like those taken in Saudi Arabia so aggressively over the last two decades – will guide the way for other nations’ efforts to root out cells of destruction wherever they may be. I believe that sanctions, diplomacy, and common decency, if not internal instability and a change of leadership, will return Iran to its senses and encourage it to pursue a more peaceful path. I believe that the Palestinians will see the long-awaited appearance of their own state at the United Nations. And I believe that our goal of energy interdependence is already being realized, and that we will work together, because we must, to arrive at the ideal energy mix from global sources. But most of all I believe that Saudi Arabia has an important and pivotal role to play in navigating these storms in order to show the way to all nations seeking to safely land their Ships of State. And with that I say, safe sailing to all, and may we soon find ourselves tied securely to the shore, if only to conduct repairs and gain provisions for our next great voyage.