Condoleezza Rice Roundtable with Saudi Media
Roundtable with Saudi Media
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
June 21, 2005
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Thanks very much for joining me. Why don't we just start with your questions.
QUESTION: I will speak in Arabic.
SECRETARY RICE: Of course, that's fine.
QUESTION: Usually I speak Chinese. Now I (inaudible).
SECRETARY RICE: Great. Well, unfortunately, my Chinese isn't any better than my Arabic.
QUESTION: Like my English, maybe.
SECRETARY RICE: No, your English is very good.
Are you all going to translate or -- oh, you will. That's fine.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) Well, Dr. Osman is saying that in Crawford summit, one of the outcome of Crawford summit, the (inaudible) establishing the joint the Saudi-American joint commission.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: He would like to know, I mean, what's the aspect and what's the future of this established commission, and what will be the agenda, exact agenda, for that commission?
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Well, last night the Foreign Minister and I had a chance to meet and we had a chance to develop the agenda. We've agreed, first of all, on process that we will meet -- he and I will meet, twice a year, so once in Riyadh and once in Washington. We then have an expert-level committee that will be chaired by David Welch on our side -- who's just walking in just in time -- and then we will have a -- there will be a Saudi chair for the expert committee.
Our agenda is, of course, as broad as the U.S.-Saudi relationship, which is very broad. First of all, we will have a set of discussions on regional issues, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the problems in Iraq and the promise of creating a democratic and stable Iraq, and other regional issues that may be of importance.
Secondly, we will have a counterterrorism aspect to our work. Obviously, the fight for -- against al-Qaida and against the terrorists, against the extremists, is extremely important and we expect to have deep discussions about counterterrorism.
Third, we hope to have broad economic discussions. Saudi Arabia is preparing to try to enter the World Trade Organization. The United States has been supportive of that and we've been trying to work with Saudi so that succession can take place.
But also, we hope to have discussions on oil. Obviously, this is a time of extremely high oil prices and I noted the record crude today. And we recognize that Saudi Arabia is trying to be and wants to be a responsible oil producer so that the international economy does not suffer. And we noted at Crawford that there was a decision taken to try to improve productive capacity over the longer term. And I think it's important for us to have a channel in which we can talk about these issues in a more long-term way. Although it's always helpful to do anything that could be done for the short term, we do have a structural problem in the long run as well.
And then finally, we will have a host of bilateral issues, many bilateral issues that we will discuss, including, as the Foreign Minister said last night, the course of reform here in Saudi Arabia, something that is important to the President, who is a man of conviction about the need for greater openness in political life, and a man of conviction about the need to have all citizens -- women and men -- participating in the political life. And so we will talk about all of our bilateral issues, but we expect that reform and other issues that come up from time to time that are a part of that reform agenda -- religious freedom and (inaudible) -- that we will be able to discuss those.
So it's really an agenda of four areas and we'll meet twice a year and then we'll leave it to experts to meet in between. I think the first meeting in Washington will likely be in September.
QUESTION: On the expert level or in --
SECRETARY RICE: On the foreign ministers level. I think we will probably then be able to better direct the experts to --
QUESTION: In Washington?
SECRETARY RICE: In Washington. In Washington.
QUESTION: Again, we will talk about Crawford because Crawford was a turning point. Crawford II was a turning point in Saudi-American relations.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. That's right, it was Crawford II. That's right.
QUESTION: I mean, coincidentally, as I was speaking with Mr. Ambassador, I attended Crawford I also. And one of the clauses in the final communiqué of Crawford I is so more Saudis -- Saudi Arabia emphasize that more Saudis will be visiting the United States, either as student or for tourist purposes. But unfortunately, Dr. Rice, I mean, under this summer and, I mean, scorching sun, in 45 degrees centigrade, Saudis are queuing outside the American Consulate, in Jeddah at least. And, you know, they are -- they also visit the United States and I think if you go back to your -- get feedback about how many application, it was very huge compared with the last three years.
So do you have any plans in the future? We are not speaking about easing the visa procedure. We are requesting that there should be some ease in this in dealing with this situation. When I went to -- with Royal Highness in Crawford II, I was there in that queue. It's fine for me. I can tolerate. But, you know, there is elderly people, there is women, there is children, and I wish you can, I mean, consider this. You know, we are not asking any (inaudible). I would really (inaudible).
SECRETARY RICE: This is a -- it's a good question. I'm glad I have the Ambassador here, who oversees those consulates. So, yeah --
AMBASSADOR OBERWETTER: Yeah, just a couple of points to make here. First, there is a problem with the summer heat and the longer lines. That's bad news in a way. And we're looking at ways to deal with that, to accommodate the growing numbers of Saudis that wish to go to America.
That is the positive side of the equation: There are lines of Saudis who want to go to America. And this is a big change for us. Two things have happened, however. First, here in the Kingdom, in particular, we are working with a reduced staff, and because we have a reduced staff at the consulate windows, we're not able to accommodate all of the interest that we have.
The second part to that is our new procedures that we use when one applies for visas. It used to be a very easy thing, but we learned a very hard lesson about that. So the processes that we have put in place to vet people before they go has extended the period of time that it takes for us to do the processing. So what you have is a backlog at the windows with new procedures. We have made those procedures, as we have learned how to do those procedures, faster. We process more people faster.
But the good news is a good number of people want to go and that's a change from in the past couple of years. And now we're trying to find ways to deal with the queues that are extending out in front of the buildings. Many other embassies have this very same problem. You know, we've noticed as we drive around the diplomatic corridor to other embassies that, you know, we're not the only ones experiencing this problem. But we're looking at it. We'll try to deal with it. Frankly, there are some budgetary concerns about how we deal with crowds that queue outside of our grounds that we have to deal with. But if there are ways that we can (inaudible) with registered appointment times, even though we do that now, we'll find some ways to help. But we have noticed that this is not a problem that affects just the U.S. Saudi Embassy.
QUESTION: Do you think that something will come out, do you think, this summer or next summer?
AMBASSADOR OBERWETTER: It's hard to know. We're looking at it. You know, as the summer heat came on, the complaints started to go up, and this is something that we have noticed within the last couple of weeks and we've really had a lot of complaints. So we're looking at ways of dealing with that.
QUESTION: So the more warmer relations, the more heat. (Laughter.)
AMBASSADOR OBERWETTER: I'm telling you. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: It is amazing. It's kind of ironic, isn't it? But let me just end the story. I think it's good that people want to go.
QUESTION: And really, this question is only because a lot of people are talking about it to put it to your experts.
SECRETARY RICE: Right, yes. Yes, yes. Well, obviously, we will look very hard, as the Ambassador said, at ways to try and alleviate it even this year. But I guess the good news is that people are trying to go, and we'll try to deal with it.
AMBASSADOR OBERWETTER: One other point, and that Carol has brought to my attention, which is a good one. Riyadh is processing everybody from the eastern province as well. And before too long we hope to have an announcement about how people on the eastern province could be better accommodated at the Consulate there. That could take part of the burden off here as well. All right.
SECRETARY RICE: Good.
AMBASSADOR OBERWETTER: I hope that helps.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Dr. Rice, I don't know, should we move from the Saudi-American relations or we'll continue?
SECRETARY RICE: Please. No, whatever you like.
QUESTION: Maybe we'll come back to Saudi Arabia. As I recall, not long time ago, Senator Lugar, he stated that the magnificent role of the Quartet trying to solve the issue of Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but he suggested that two (inaudible) countries in the region, in Islamic world, like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, should be a part of this Quartet, so it will be six countries instead of four. What's your opinion about that and how do you see the role of Quartet moving along to solve the issue of this?
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, well, first of all, I did speak with the members of the Quartet before I came out to the Middle East and I will see them again when I'm in London just in a couple of days. The Quartet is a very useful gathering with the UN, with the United States, with Russia and with the European Union, but it doesn't have to be one that is exclusive to solving the problem in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. And I know from time to time in the past, the Quartet has met with the Saudis and the Egyptians and sometimes the Jordanians, as well as apart, so that regional states are also involved.
So I believe that we will probably do this at some point in the near future, that the Quartet would want to have the -- what would that be -- a Septet? -- (laughter) -- when we involve the other three.
The point, though, that you make is a really important one about the role of regional states in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If there were problems in the past, for instance, when they had an opportunity at Camp David, I think the people who participated in that process would say that there was too little involvement of the regional states in making certain that the parties would be able to go forward. When you talk about some of the sensitive issues that are final status issues, the regional states are going to have to also be supportive of whatever solutions are found to those final status issues.
So I think it's something we should start fairly soon and I have also asked that the regional states that are capable would help the Palestinians on the financial side because they face, as you know, virtually -- well, very minimal economic activity because of the conflict over the last several years. They are looking to try and invest in their people and their economy also as a guard against terrorist activity. And so there is financial support, there is political support, and as I said, there's going to have to be regional support for whatever resolution there is. So it's a very good point and I think you will probably see the Quartet engage the three major regional actors.
QUESTION: Ma'am, of course, since September 11 we all know that there, unfortunately, there's been a rift in the relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia. And that is still healing and hopefully, with the Crown Prince's visit, things are getting better.
Unfortunately, and during the Crown Prince's visit, of course, the issue of students revisiting the U.S. once again and trying to get things back on course as what they were before 9/11. However, in the Saudi media, and I don't know if you know this or not, but in a small country like Saudi Arabia, what we call a swimming pool gossip goes a long way. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: We have our version of that, too.
QUESTION: Certain stories of students being mistreated, especially by FBI agents, immigration officials, prejudice, maltreatment in airports, does make waves in the Saudi media and is not allowing the wounds to heal. We've raised this issue, I think, with the FBI Director's visit a couple of months ago and our newspaper, including other newspapers, also reported and spoke to people recently returned to the States and inform us of interrogation by FBI officials. Of course, he denied that.
I just wanted to raise that to your attention. And what sort of measures would be taken in the near future regarding this issue?
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, well, first of all, we welcome students from Saudi Arabia and from around the world. As the Ambassador mentioned, we have -- we do have new procedures in many places. After September 11th, we really realize that we didn't know who was in the country. And that's not a comment on the Middle East. Many of the hijackers came out of Europe to do what they did on September 11th, so we didn't know who was coming from any place.
And I do think that we've made some improvements in how we can process these new procedures, but obviously one of the issues in the United States is it's a very decentralized system and so what you're very often dealing with is local officials, not federal. Even if they're federal, they're at the local level and sometimes it's local officials, not federal at all. And so we try with training, we try with telling people that they need to be sensitive. We have in some cases airports that are very busy, very understaffed, and where people are trying to do a good job but they get kind of overwhelmed.
And I'll just tell you that none of it is, by any means, sanctioned, if it is indeed happening. But we do have -- I hear from my friends who travel in the United States, you know, "I had such a hard time at this airport" or "that airport or they made me open my luggage five times" or "they pulled me out of line, what's going on here?" So I just -- it's not to excuse, but it is to explain that this is a new system in the United States and now really only about the last year where we're getting these procedures in place. The transportation authority is only a couple of years old and we're just going to have to do a better job of staffing, of training people, of not having people overwhelmed.
But I'll tell you, it's not just if you're from Saudi that sometimes is a little difficult to get through our airports. You can be from Denver and it's a little difficult to get through our airports. But I think that this will begin to smooth out as we get the procedures in place and people are better trained and better sensitized. Again, it's not to excuse, and if there are ever incidents that are, you know, of a certain threshold, you should, by all means, mention them to the Ambassador and we can work with our officials.
But I'm quite certain that nothing is being done here that is systematic and that people are being told that they should treat everybody very well. And just on the visa issue, we do want very much to have people come to the United States. We want students to come to the United States. It was really great last night meeting ministers. And I met ministers from more universities in the United States than anyplace else, including one from my alma mater, the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver. So this is something that's important to the future is to keep the exchange of people going.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) Madame Secretary, I have a question about Colonel Qadhafi. He committed himself and his country internationally to renounce terrorism and the attempt to assassinate Crown Prince Abdallah comes as a serious violation of that commitment. My question is about the U.S. hesitation in dealing with this issue head on. Is it because of the lack of evidence against him or is it because of other political reasons or is it because it does not serve the U.S. interest?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we are dealing with the Libyans. Obviously, this is something that we have tried to help the Saudi Government understand what happened and try to make sure that the Libyan Government is, in fact, investigating and dealing with what happened. And I just would note that while relations with Libya are certainly improving after Colonel Qadhafi's decision to give up his weapons of mass destruction, Libya, of course, remains on the terrorism list for the United States and so we've not removed Libya from that list until a number of issues can be cleared up to our satisfaction.
The importance of what Libya did, of course, shouldn't be underestimated. I mean, giving up weapons of mass destruction, including a nuclear program that was pretty impressive, is an important step. But the -- and the relations have improved. But I would just note that it's still on the terrorism list and we will continue to try to get resolution before Libya is removed from that list.
QUESTION: We all know, (inaudible) that you are a very strong supporter of reforms and democracy in the region, but I wonder if you notice that if a genuine election took place in the Arab world, either in Egypt or a genuine, free and fair election in Egypt or in Syria or in Morocco or in Algeria, who will be in power? You know, of course -- so you are promoting democracy in the region. How about as a result of this democracy an Islamist regime came to power? How you are going to deal with this? Do you know the consequences of democracy in the region?
SECRETARY RICE: It's very interesting. I don't know who would win a completely free and fair election. When we talk about reform, we talk not just about holding elections but we talk about the creation of institutions of civil society, of the broad development of rights for the broadest number of people. And on that basis, when you hold elections, it's not at all evident to me that the most extreme factions win.
In fact, I think you could make the opposite argument, which is that if people have to go out and campaign, they have to go out and get people's votes, and people can vote not just freely and fairly but secretly, it would be very interesting to see whether people would, in fact, vote for a platform that said our platform is to kill innocent people and take away your rights and send your children off to be suicide bombers or to fly airplanes into buildings. And the good thing about a campaign is that the media should and can ask questions that expose what the true platform and campaign would be.
In closed societies, the extremists can hide, they can cause suicide bombings, they can cause the death of innocents, and there's no one to, in effect, hold them accountable. They come on television masked and they say all kinds of things about what they will do. In places like Iraq, they come on television masked because they have some innocent captive that they are going to execute. And there isn't anything in the political system that can actually deal with them.
So I have to think that the interesting question would be over some period of time, and I admit that reform has many aspects, not just holding elections but has these other aspects to it, developing civil society, developing institutions, developing dialogue. It's one reason that the national dialogue here is an important idea, developing dialogue. And then on that basis, with a press that is active and free, I am not so sure that extremists can survive in that environment.
So I look at -- I know there's been a lot of discussion of the Hamas victories in some of the municipalities. What's interesting is, if you look at what Hamas said they would do, it was about corruption and it was questions of, you know, we will fix your sewer system and we can do it better than the Palestinian Authority can do it. I just think when we assume that extremists will win in free and fair elections, we don't give the people enough credit. But it would be very important and very -- a key responsibility of the press to expose what the extremists really intended to do if they were "elected."
Now, it's not a perfect safeguard and to a certain extent you have to trust the people, but we believe in the United States that what the absence of political openness and a press that has the opportunity to examine what political leaders are doing in an open way, that that has produced these dark shadows in which extremists can actually operate.
So I think there's at least a very, very good chance that the extremists would not do very well, and under the current circumstances they are doing well without having to face the people.
QUESTION: Dr. Rice, let's go back to Saudi Arabia and economic. I just came from (inaudible) in the States for about two weeks and my impression is that the American businessmen are really eager to come back and do business with Saudi Arabia. My question is in two points.
Point one. You're helping the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to get a role in WTO. Are you -- can you tell us that by this coming December meeting of the ministerial level in Hong Kong that there will be announced of Saudi Arabia enrolling in WTO?
Secondly, what is the State Department and the Ministry of Commerce, or the Secretary of Commerce, doing to encourage American businessmen (inaudible) to come and do business back to Saudi Arabia?
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Well, first of all, on the WTO, I certainly hope that this will move along. The WTO has pretty strict requirements for membership and so the United States, what we've tried to do with countries with which we have good relations and want to see in the WTO is to, through technical discussions and negotiations to try to move toward that. But we can't jump over the requirements and so much has to be done on the Saudi side just to make sure that we can get there.
I would just note, any WTO accession for Saudi would have to pass the U.S. Congress so we need to do this in a way that would stand up when it comes before the Congress. But I certainly hope that we can get there. As usually is the case, we're now down to the very few hardest issues and that's why progress slows when you get down to the very hardest issues. But I know everybody is working at it very energetically to try to get it done.
And I find that people do want to do business here. Obviously, one thing that we've tried to work on with the Saudi Government is the security situation so that people feel that they can come here and do business. Again, it is not just Saudi Arabia. There are a number of places where we have had security concerns and it makes it difficult to keep consulates open in the way that we want to. But we're working on that with the Saudi Government. And one of the reasons that it's important, the story of what the Saudi Government is doing on the counterterrorism front, the arrests that are being made, the cells that are being taken down, is that it gives people confidence that the Saudi Government is really taking this counterterrorism action very seriously. And I believe that it is.
Secondly, the WTO would expand the realm of the kinds of companies that want to do business in Saudi Arabia. You know, I was an oil company director and everybody wanted to do business with Saudi Arabia if you were an oil company. But -- or maybe a chemical company or something that is off the vertical side of oil production. But Saudi Arabia has -- its greatest potential is going to be its human potential, not just its resources in the ground, so to speak. And as the economy -- and I know one of the goals is diversification of the economy -- and so I think you will see different kinds of American businesses starting to come, and European businesses and others, as the World Trade Organization accession takes place. And I think that's another important reason for it to take place.
I'd like to just very briefly go back to the question that we were talking about in how to organize the political system so that extremists don't win. There obviously is a lot of work to do in terms of reform, but if I could just mention two very important things. One is that as people group themselves into associations, of what we would call political parties but in some places there are other kinds of institutions who do this, part of the problem right now is that everybody assumes that the extremists are the best organized and (inaudible).
Civil society has to organize itself. And one reason that we've had the Forum for the Future out of the Broader Middle East Initiative is so that civil society can connect to civil society elsewhere so that it can organize. And I have to (inaudible), given that I believe very strongly in that women play an important role here, I think you will find also that as women are empowered politically, extremism, given its views of women, will find that a very powerful force as well. It was certainly a powerful force in Afghanistan and it is turning out to be a powerful force in Iraq.
So I know that these are very deeply held views in societies here in the Middle East about the role of women or about the role of association, but over time -- and I want to stress over time, not everything happens overnight -- and we in the United States know that not everything happens overnight because not everything happened overnight in the United States. But the important thing is the process of opening up the political system, having a dialogue, bringing people in, because as that happens, extremists will be pushed into a narrower and narrower corner, which I don't think they can be very effective with the broader population.
All right, I think we have to go. Thank you.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) about Saudi.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Are you going to sign the Saudi-American treaty regarding the economy (inaudible) was it mentioned yesterday?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, the bilateral agreement?
QUESTION: Bilateral -- bilateral --
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, there's a bilateral investment treaty -- I don't know (inaudible).
Great, thank you very much.
QUESTION: Thank you. Have a safe trip. It was nice meeting you.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. 2005/T10-17
Released on June 21, 2005