Placing the Recent Tension in Saudi Arabian-U.S. Relations in Context: Where Do We Go From Here?

NCUSAR-Public-Affairs-Briefing-200x218Below is a remarks as delivered transcript from a public affairs briefing held November 13, 2013, in Washington, DC, sponsored by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, the U.S.-GCC Corporate Cooperation Committee, and Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP.

Featured Specialists:

Ambassador (Ret.) Ford Fraker – Former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (April 2007 – April 2009); and Senior Advisor, Trinity Group Limited.

Ambassador (Ret.) James Smith – Former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (September 2009 – September 2013); and Senior Counselor, The Cohen Group.


Dr. John Duke Anthony – Founding President and CEO, National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations.

[Remarks as delivered]

[Amb. Ford Fraker] Well, Dr. Anthony as usual has done an excellent job sort of laying the ground work, and I think one of the advantages of an audience like this is that Ambassador Smith and I get to talk to people who know a lot about what we’re talking about, and that facilitates the discussion. What we don’t – certainly what I don’t do well at is when I have to stand up in front of a group and put a map of Europe on the wall and then go from Europe down to Saudi Arabia, so it’s always nice to speak to an informed audience.

Ambassador (Ret.) Ford M. Fraker at the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations' 2013 Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference. Photo: NCUSAR.

Ambassador (Ret.) Ford M. Fraker at the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ 2013 Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference. Photo: NCUSAR.

So what I want to do is to spend some time talking about the relationship and some of the key elements in the relationship that are relevant today for what’s going on so that we can get into the question and answer portion of this rapidly. I think it’s at that point that everybody gets fully engaged and we don’t have to stand up here droning on about various issues that may or may not be important to you. It’s always better to turn it over to the audience and find out what’s on their minds.

So a brief word about the relationship. When I arrived as Ambassador to Saudi Arabia in 2007, up to that point I’d been a banker in the Middle East for almost 35 years. So Saudi Arabia was a country I knew well. It allowed me to transition into the position relatively easily from a number of standpoints. But one of the things that surprised me when I came was I had no real understanding of the breadth and depth of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the U.S.

Obviously the high points – energy for security – all the basic issues that drive the relationship, yes I knew about them. But the number of programs that exist encompassing Departments of Commerce, Energy, Education – a whole raft of programs that extend throughout the relationship, not just broadly, but deeply as I said, I think has a lot to do with why this relationship is as strong and as fundamentally sound as it is.

Some of you have heard me refer to the relationship as a marriage. All good marriages are based on sound fundamentals, strategic interests, shared values. I think that’s very much the case in Saudi Arabia. And in every strong marriage, good marriage, there are the ups and downs, but as long as those fundamentals are in place, and as I said as long as you have this depth and breadth of relationships operating then the relationship takes over.

I’m convinced one of the reasons the relationship did not break immediately after 9/11 was because of this, because of the number of programs that were in place, because of the day-to-day interaction was embedded. So from that standpoint I don’t worry about this relationship breaking. For sure, as I said, there will be ups and downs, and we’re in a particularly difficult period right now and there are a number of factors for that, and I wanted to mention two.

Syria is the one that’s obviously in the news at the moment, and the only point I’d make about this because an enormous amount has been written on this subject, the one point I haven’t seen in the press so much is the fact that for the first time Saudi Arabia has gone way out on a limb here.

It’s the first time that the King, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques has actually publicly called for the downfall of another Arab ruler. It’s not normally the role that Saudi Arabia plays. Usually the diplomatic role is very much behind the scenes, but this case is different. Of course a lot of this was predicated on the fact that Saudi Arabia and the United States would be marching shoulder to shoulder for some kind of a resolution in Syria. When the United States took a detour in the eyes of Saudi Arabia it left Saudi Arabia very, very exposed in this way. I think most of us would agree that all the options we’re looking at now in Syria are bad options, and Saudi Arabia’s looking at the same number of bad options as the rest of us. So this is a real problem for them.

The second point I wanted to make was about the view of Iran from inside the Kingdom, and I think the press from time to time doesn’t see the depth of what’s going on here. Iran is the existential threat to the Kingdom. This is publicly stated, and I think it’s important to understand that from the Kingdom’s standpoint they view themselves as a frontline state. There’s a recent article that was done by Anthony Cordesman. If any of you have a chance to read it or have read it I recommend it to you. He addresses this problem from that perspective and dismisses all of the comments that Saudi Arabia has acted emotionally or fecklessly in turning down the U.N. seat and their actions. And he makes a very good, strong case for why that is not so and how it is that Saudi Arabia sees the world, and they see it as a very dangerous world from their standpoint.

I’m sure Jim can reinforce this, but the vision that Iranian influence spreading throughout the region is in the process of encircling Saudi Arabia is something they’re very, very concerned about. They look at Iraq and from their standpoint they believe Iraq has essentially been taken over by Iran. The northern border fence that’s been going up – senior Saudis will tell you that’s a fence against Iran, it’s not a fence against Iraqis coming across the border.

The growing influence of Iran in Syria. It’s been there for a long time, but it’s more and more visible. This is of real concern to Saudi Arabia. Iranian influence in Lebanon, Iranian influence in the Gulf whether you’re in Bahrain or whether you’re in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, they see Iran as a real time threat. When you see it from that perspective you can understand, I think, pretty well why it is that at this point in time they’re very concerned and they’re taking the sort of actions they’re taking.

So with that, I’m going to leave it to Jim, because as I say I think the best part of these discussions is when we get into the questions and answers. I just wanted to throw some of those thoughts and ideas out to you to prompt the discussion later on.

Thank you.

[Amb. James Smith] Well thanks, Dr. Anthony, for the chance to join you again. I’ve been doing a triage of my notes as I listened to them talk so I don’t actually have that much left.

Most of what you’ve seen over the last few weeks is what I call a race to hyperbole, where the U.S.-Saudi relationship is easily depicted that it’s all falling apart and we’re going to lose our place to Russia or China, or on the other hand they’ll get over it. Those are two extremes and I would argue that neither one of those are true, it is somewhere in the middle.

The upside, and probably three reasons why I will say the relationship is solid. One, the foundation is in place. In my four years – Ford did the same thing before me – we looked to rebuild the foundation of the relationship, which was business and education and health care. We doubled trade in four years, upwards of 400 American companies that exported to Saudi Arabia for the very first time in those four years. And we did that because each one of those relationships, each Saudi student studying in the United States, each American in Saudi Arabia teaching English as a second language, each relationship between a teaching hospital and a Saudi hospital, these are all bricks in the foundation of the relationship. And when that foundation is solid you’ll be able to weather storms at the top.

The second, I would say is these guys are not irrational. Sometime their actions may seem irrational because they’re dealing with different decision sets and priorities than we, but they’re not irrational. These decisions like the Security Council are well thought out.

And third, I would say is the importance as Ford said of a long-term relationship. When Saudi Arabia was in trouble 22 years ago we were there. We will be there next time for a lot of different reasons. They know that. It’s a strategic relationship in terms of security. The mil to mil relationship is solid, the intel relationship – especially on the CT front – is solid. The trade, the business relationship, our energy relationship – these are all very solid, and that foundation I think is in place, so I don’t expect any long-term impact because of this rift.

What’s different? Let me tell you a little story. In 1999 I was the commander at Kadena, Okinawa, and I left to go on a trip to of all places Hawaii for a conference. I left my bride there to withstand Typhoon 16, “Chuhachi,” which was a category 2 hurricane or typhoon with winds blowing 140 miles an hour. I tried to get back in time for this – didn’t quite make it, ended in Osaka, took a train up to the Air Force base, and I’m sitting in the weather shop talking to her, explaining to her about the weather. I was being very logical about this. It looks like the winds are going to go up about 10 knots and then drop down again.

Unbeknownst to me she had taken this big piece of furniture in the living room and leaned it against the door and she was sitting on top of that because the winds were blowing at about 140 knots, and she had very little interest in what I had to say about the weather.

In fact I can’t repeat what she actually told me. And then I realized from 1,000 miles away you can be very objective about the weather. When you are 10,000 miles away you can be very objective about foreign policy decisions. When you are in the eye of a storm, which is where Saudi Arabia has been for at least the last three years, it looks different, and if they often appear emotional it’s because they are in the eye of the storm.

So in the context of where they are and what has been going on around them they are going to react in a different way, and again it’s not 10,000 miles away – it’s on their doorstep.

Ambassador (Ret.) James B. Smith at the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations' 2013 Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference. Photo: NCUSAR.

Ambassador (Ret.) James B. Smith at the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ 2013 Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference. Photo: NCUSAR.

Now, there is no question that there’s a lot of pent up frustration in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the region for what they perceive as the West’s inability or unwillingness to deal with the issues of the day.

In a very simplistic view they will say that because we’ve not pressured Israel on settlements or to reach a resolution on the Palestinian crisis that’s why there’s no solution. Understandably they don’t stop and consider the limitations and our vulnerability to influence that, but nonetheless in their minds that’s why hasn’t been a settlement.

On Syria, I think Ford laid that out pretty well, but again is the death of 120,000 Arabs not worth our time? And it’s hard to disagree that the international community has not been able to stand up and say you guys formed this United Nations after World War II. You said never again. You said we are going to stand for something greater than just national aspirations. But when it happens in our region you just stand back and you don’t do anything. That’s their frustration.

There’s been a lot building since for at least 22 years, going back to Desert Storm/Desert Shield – or actually Desert Storm and Southern Watch because we look at that differently. In our view we were there stabilizing the region, providing a counter to Saddam Hussein. Inside Saudi Arabia our footprint there over a very long period of time created a great problem for them. They felt the results of that leading up to the 2003 through late 2005 when the global Jihadists came home to roost. But then you can click through again, Israel, Palestine, Egypt 1 – Mubarak, Bahrain, Libya, Egypt 2, Syria – we can talk about all of those.

I would say there are three trends on our side that has contributed to this lack of communication – so there’s two problems. One is a lack of communication between our governments and policy differences between our governments. And there are three trends.

One is the growth of multilateral considerations in a bilateral world. As Ambassador you go out as Ambassador Extraordinary Plenipotentiary, you’re the representative of your government to that government. I would say Ford and I will argue that 90 percent of the issues we dealt with were in a multilateral context with Saudi Arabia. What’s going on in Yemen, Bahrain, all the way around.

But the Middle East is the only place in the world where the United States does not have an inject point into a multilateral organization. Dr. Anthony is absolutely right, we had a breakthrough with the Strategic Cooperation Forum, but even then we don’t have an Ambassador to the GCC or an Ambassador to the Arab League.

We do not have a formal inject point to multilateral negotiations on a daily basis in that region, and it’s the only region in the world we don’t do that. There are twenty-four countries in NEA in the State Department and every one of those ambassadors is Ambassador Extraordinary Plenipotentiary, unlike Europe, Asia, really the rest of the world.

The second is I think we’ll look back in history and call the last 20 years a period of strategic ADD for us because actually after the Berlin Wall went down, we went from having a pretty coherent strategy to counter the Soviet threat into one of going from problem to problem to problem.

Over time if you deal in foreign policy that way then you see every issue as a problem. The assumption is you can fix it and that you should fix it. And that’s kind of what we’ve been doing for 20 years. Well, the unintended consequence of that is if you are not a problem then our government has no bandwidth for you. So long-term established relationships – Saudi Arabia, Japan, and Singapore, and South Korea – there has been an atrophy of those long-term relationships because inside of our government and the policy apparatus we’ve only had time to deal with the problems of the day.

The third issue is that there has been over time a centralization of the policy process inside of D.C. and now inside the NSFs. So we don’t have the ongoing engagement that we had a generation ago, and when we centralize the policy process then guess what, you spent all of your time inside of D.C. feeding that animal, and guess what, you don’t have any time to go out and visit your friends.

And that is the challenge for our government. We have to deal with that because today more than any time in my career in public service we need that engagement, not just doing point papers for people to go to meetings and work in the policy process.

The world is different though, and that part of the world is different. That’s what I’m going to leave you with. And I don’t think you put the genie back in the bottle. The Saudis like to tell me there was not an Arab Spring in Saudi Arabia, and I would respond yes there was, and yes there is. It’s an awakening. And in the context that I define this does not necessarily have to result in the overthrow of a government, but we saw this in the Jeddah floods in November, December 2009.

But the populations of that part of the world, including Saudi Arabia, no longer see themselves as subjects – they see themselves as citizens. And everyone there has got an iPhone or a Blackberry with every app known to mankind, and for the first time they can pull information from the rest of the world at their fingertips. And because of social media there is an active debate going on, on the issues of the day. And they believe they have a right to free speech, and they do. Saudi Arabia has the highest percentage of active Twitter users from any country in the world and it’s growing by leaps and bounds. By the way it is a different debate going on over there than what you see in the print media. Completely different debate. It’s about their problems of the day. It’s fascinating to listen to. But they see themselves as citizens, and we saw that in Jeddah, we saw the proliferation of volunteer activities over the last four years, and their demand is that their governments are responsive and transparent in the process.

That is the trend I see through the region. Now, the monarchies of the region have actually been very sophisticated in figuring this out and being responsive. The challenge is will they continue to do that. Now, one of the claims made was that the Saudis were going to have a more active foreign policy. Well, yeah. They’ve got to. They have no choice because their population is getting pictures of people being killed in Damascus, and they’re asking what are you doing about it.

So it’s the population of the country that is driving the government to be more visible and more proactive. I think that will continue. We want them to be more proactive. We want them to be more proactive. Because here’s the problem – no matter how you dissect Syria it’s about Arabs killing Arabs. It’s about Muslims killing Muslims. A year and a half ago during Ramadan King Abdullah stood up and called for a dialogue inside of Islam. Why are we killing each other?

And the region is going to have to reach strategic fatigue on killing inside of Islam before they’re ready to address that issue. He called for that and people have not moved. We need Saudi Arabia to have a leadership position in that dialogue because at the end of the day this is a challenge for the region, not a solution we can impose from without. So we desperately need Saudi Arabia’s leadership. With that I look forward to your questions.

Thank you.

[John Duke Anthony] Thank both Ambassadors. One of them has an urgent meeting to attend that necessitates his departure at three fifteen at the latest. So I’m going to honor that by asking if he would be good enough to respond to the questions before Ambassador Smith, and if you will accept that procedure. I’ll read all of the questions first and then Ford, you can answer them as you see fit.

What role can the U.S. play in mending Saudi Arabian-Iraq relations and what are the main obstacles? If Saudi Arabia sees Iran as such a threat why oppose U.S. efforts to modify Iranian behavior and reduce the Iranian threat? Saudi Arabia’s policy and behavior in this regard seems self-defeating.

What about Saudi Arabia’s public views on the Kingdom’s aid to Egypt? Do the Saudi Arabians in your estimation support it or oppose it? It’s been said that Saudi Arabia may feel compelled to itself become a nuclear weapons power. What effect would that have on the strategic balance in the Middle East? How would that effect U.S.-Saudi Arabian relations? How can the U.S. prevent this? Do the Saudi Arabians trust President Obama to negotiate a credible deal with Iran to end its nuclear weapons effort?

Last of those – and I’ve got some others coming – these Saudi Arabian actions are uncharacteristic, the recent ones. Is some of this posturing before the inevitable succession in the rulership? Who are the drivers of these uncharacteristic Saudi Arabian actions? How much is King Abdullah able to exercise control, if indeed he’s not or if he is at the center of these recent policy behaviors?

Ford, you’ve got a day and a half to discuss those questions.

[Fraker] So I’ll ask you to stop there. I’ll deal with one of the ones that I remember then we can go back to the others.

President Barack Obama walks with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and members of the Saudi delegation, prior to the King's departure from the White House, June 29, 2010. Photo: White House.

President Barack Obama walks with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and members of the Saudi delegation, prior to the King’s departure from the White House, June 29, 2010. Photo: White House.

One of the points that I think is worth making about Iran, given the diplomatic conversations that are going on now and what seems to be the clear direction U.S. diplomacy is heading, which is towards some kind of a deal on the nuclear side with Iran.

That clearly is a government priority. And to pick up on Jim’s point, which is absolutely the right one – so much of this relationship is tied up in personal relationships and good communication. I think that has been a problem. And one of the points that I make to some of my Saudi friends when we start talking about Iran and a potential nuclear deal is that they should look at this as a transaction, not as a change of relationship priority.

Just because we think we can strike a deal with Iran on the nuclear side doesn’t make Iran a partner of the United States, a trusted friend to the United States – this is just a transaction. Our friendships, our trust, our relationships are where they always have been. And I think this is an important distinction.

It’s a hard one for many of my Saudi friends to come to terms with because they like often to look at things as a zero-sum game, which is if you do a deal with Iran then you’re no longer our friend or ally, which clearly is not the case.

So I think that’s an important distinction to make, and it needs to be made consistently through the diplomatic side of things. The Saudis need to hear this from the most senior people in the Administration that again what we’re looking at is a potential transaction that we think will make the world a safer place by taking nuclear weapons off the table in Iran assuming that this is a deal that people can be confident in. And they should see it in those terms, not in the terms of us turning our backs on friends or reestablishing new partnerships and relationships. But the level of mistrust that exists on the Iranian side and the U.S. side is huge. That’s not going to be overcome for a long, long time. All we’re talking about here is a deal, not a change in relationship. So that’s one point.

I’m happy to try to respond to one of the other fifty-seven questions.

[Anthony] What’s driving Qatar’s perceived opposition to Saudi Arabia’s foreign policies?

[Fraker] So the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Qatar has been complicated for a long time. It’s not an easy relationship for cultural and personal reasons I would say. The Qataris are relatively new to the game of being mega rich and have spent a lot of time and effort over the last few years trying to make an impact in the world of diplomacy.

So you’ve seen them involved in a number of situations where some people have ended up scratching their heads saying why are the Qataris involved in this. So it’s a new country playing – not a new country, but it’s a new role this country is playing, and I think the Saudis, the Qataris, the Emiratis, the Omanis, everyone’s trying to get comfortable with what that role is, and I think there’s still some question about it in a number of peoples’ minds.

So it’s a complicated factor – I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that. And Qatar’s position will be different for every situation, and the Saudis, and the Kuwaitis, and the Emiratis, and everybody else will just have to try and figure that out and bring Qatar on side, if you will, so that they can all act more effectively and efficiently as a group, because I think that’s one of the problems currently. They’re not acting as a group.

[Anthony] One or two more questions then we will let you go indeed. How far away from the United States can Saudi Arabia go? What perceived distance can it, should it, or might it place between itself and the United States if the statements of Prince Bandar and some others implying that the degree of intimacy and trust and extent of the relationship will be reconsidered. Also, a little more if you would like on Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

[Fraker] So, all relationships ebb and flow, as I was saying earlier in my comments about the relationship being something of a marriage with its ups and downs. I think fundamentally, and Jim stated this quite clearly, fundamentally the base is sound. I think it’s natural that Saudi Arabia as a major force, as a member of the G20, is going to establish their other bilateral relationships, as well they should.

And these were comments that I made when I was ambassador back to Washington, that Washington should not be afraid of the fact that Saudi Arabia would be reaching out in different directions to establish new relationships. They should be doing that. I don’t worry that the distance will be that great. I think what you’re seeing is a very public statement of their concern over what they consider to be fundamental issues in the region, and they’re concerned about allies – particularly the United States – recognizing those concerns and acting as a good ally. And that puts us squarely back into the area of good, effective communication.

[Anthony] Please join me in thanking Ambassador Fraker. [Applause]

We’re pleased to have in the audience today the Ambassador of the League of Arab States to the United States, His Excellency Dr. Mohammed Alhussaini Alsharif, who’s with us, and he’s been an honored supporter of the National Council’s primary flagship leadership education, training, and development program, namely the Model Arab League. And if those among you have daughters and sons, nieces and nephews in the 18 to 26-age range and you don’t have them introduced to this particular program something’s missing big time. And if you do introduce your progeny and your relatives or those of your colleagues and friends to this program be prepared for their building a statue to honor you later in their life in terms of what it will do to their sense of self-esteem, self-confidence, professional effectiveness, and ability to articulate orally and in writing on policy-related issues of the day.

Ambassador Smith, if you would kindly elaborate on, disagree with, or come at a different perspective on some of these questions. Saudi Arabia’s public views, on that of a citizen’s, regarding the immense amount of aid to Egypt. We’re talking about the billions that Saudi Arabia has pledged in economic support to Egypt to allow it along with contributions coming from Kuwait and pledges also from Qatar and the UAE to match the extent of their foreign exchange reserves on a year’s basis of planning, that in the face of the United States Congress implied indication of severing, delaying, cutting back the relatively small amount of American taxpayers’ aid to Egypt in comparison to Saudi Arabia’s. Do you want to address the Egypt component here?

[Smith] Well let me click through the list, John, as you went through. On Iran, all enmity between nations at some point goes away. We had a conflict with the Soviet Union that lasted 44 years. Our rift with Iran has lasted 34 years. We are within a decade of that being as long as the Cold War. At some point it’s got to change.

Now, I was flying “Zulu Alert” out of Europe in the mid-‘80s, and for the Cold War it happened so quickly that none of us who were on active duty at the time would have predicted it.

Something similar will happen in Iran. It’s not going to happen now or next year, but all enmity must change.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal hold a joint news conference after a meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on June 25, 2013. Photo: U.S. State Department.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal hold a joint news conference after a meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on June 25, 2013. Photo: U.S. State Department.

Now, the Saudis do not believe that we can negotiate with Iran on a level playing field. They believe in the notion of [takiah] the fact that Iran will tell us whatever it is we want to hear so that they can continue to develop a nuclear weapons capability, and that we’re babes in the woods when it comes to negotiating compared to them.

So they’re very uncomfortable about negotiating with Iran on the nuclear piece. But it’s bigger than that, because what’s more important to Saudi Arabia about Iran is Iran’s strategy of destabilization in the region that traces back to 1979. And they’re concerned about the grand bargain that would get a nuclear deal, which is our issue, and then don’t address the issue of Iran’s meddling in Saudi Arabia’s neighbors, destabilizing the region for their own ambitions.

That’s the concern. Again it goes back to 2003 where we briefed them on what we’re going to do in Iraq. They told us not to do it. We went ahead and did it anyway. And see we told you so.

So their concern is, based on that experience, that we would press ahead with an agreement with Iran that doesn’t consider the concerns of Saudi Arabia or their allies and they will be left holding the short end of the bargain. That’s where we are in Iraq.

Now, having said that, if we could reach an agreement on the nuclear portfolio where in fact you had IAEA inspectors on the ground and you could limit the enrichment activity and you could control what Iran was doing on the civilian use of nuclear power, and the Saudis would welcome that.

There’s three things that the Saudis have always said they wanted from Iran. One, they wanted to have them turn over the al-Qaeda operatives, Saudis, who are being shielded in Iran, turn them over. Second, they want them to stop meddling in the internal affairs of Saudi Arabia in the Eastern Province, and in Bahrain, and Yemen – the Shia circle, they call it. And three, they want Iran to be a positive, contributing member of the region. And with that they would be happy to normalize relations and there have been periods even since ’79 that Saudi Arabia had fairly good relations with Iran. It just hasn’t been so in the last decade.

Iraq has been one of the most frustrating experiences of my tenure there because we tried real hard to get Saudi Arabia to do some constructive measures like open the border crossing in Arar, joint security ventures, trade flow to try to pull Iraq into the GCC orbit. So that they wouldn’t be left with no friend. So that the only thing they had was Iran. And this has been a personal issue between two heads of state, and we have not been able to make any progress on that one.

On aid to Egypt, this was fascinating. The Saudis are never, usually never the first to vote. They’ll cast the deciding vote. They’re not a Teddy Roosevelt kind of country where they like to be in the arena.

So when they made the decision within 12 hours to give full support to the new government in Egypt it surprised everybody, including senior people inside of Saudi Arabia. That was done without consultation with our government, and it was a surprise to [meet in place.] And then they were surprised when everybody didn’t get in line with that decision, and of course we had some other issues we had to deal with.

Now interestingly both us and the Saudis, and arguably the Turkish government are in agreement with the next phase, what has to be done, which is putting dates to the milestones in the transition plan, rewrite of the consitition, parliamentary elections, presidential elections so you transition back to a civilian government.

We can all agree on the next step. We may disagree with the diagnostics of how we got to this point, but nonetheless as you look to the future we’re pretty much in agreement on that.

I don’t see a big rift inside Saudi Arabia on the contributions. There might be some grumbling but Saudi Arabia has the money to do this. Saudi Arabia has always seen Egypt as a bulwark to the West, as Egypt has seen as a bulwark of stability to the east. They definitely want Egypt to be stable. They want them to work through this period of turmoil. They have grave concerns about the ambitions of the Muslim Brotherhood and everything they stand for. In looking forward they’re making an investment in getting the economy started again.

Is King Abdullah in control? Absolutely. I see absolutely nothing that would suggest anything otherwise. He’s not a young man. He was 87 when I got there in 2009, and he’s 88 today. But as far as mental faculties and whatnot, there’s no suggestion at all that he is not the decision maker.

The challenge of course with people as they age they lack the energy to follow through with the government to get it to execute what you’re trying to do, but I see absolutely no issue there at all.

Ford did mention a zero-sum game, and that’s something you all ought to think about. Because there is a tendency on these issues to cast them as zero-sum games. I truly believe it’s the role of the diplomat to create win-win solutions. If you frame any issue as win-loss, whoever the loser is is not going to buy in. And it’s the responsibility of the diplomat to create win-win situations and with most of these there is a way forward on that with more seasoned diplomacy.

How far can the Saudis go away? They can go as far as they want to, but I think we sometimes think, take things out of context. If you look at Prince Bandar’s comments, he was narrowly focused on an issue, which was the training of an Arab force. And that was the context that apparently he was – it was written that he spoke to Western diplomats.

I come to find out that this was reported third-hand and he’s backed away from that, but he was not making a grandiose statement about the U.S.-Saudi relationship as much as he was, how does he go about forming this Arab force for Syria, which is undefined in its size and scope and a lot of other things.

So it’s not a question how far can they go, it’s a question of how far will they go, and at the end of the day both of our countries are going to default to national interests.

And I would argue that in terms of national interest we are much more aligned on those interests and objectives. Now, the tactics of how to get there we will often disagree. But Prince Saud said during Secretary Kerry’s visit, this is a relationship where we have to be honest, and that’s what they tend to do.



Ambassador James B. Smith Ambassador (Ret.) James B. Smith

Ambassador James B. Smith served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from September 2009 through September 2013. As Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, he helped to strengthen U.S.-Saudi Arabian business relations across all sectors, which resulted in nearly 400 U.S. companies exporting to the Kingdom for the first time and a doubling of non-defense U.S. exports to the Kingdom during his term. Prior to his appointment, Ambassador Smith had served in a variety of executive positions with Raytheon Company involving corporate strategic planning, aircraft manufacturing, and international business development.


Ambassador Ford M. Fraker Ambassador (Ret.) Ford M. Fraker

Ambassador Ford M. Fraker served as U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from April 2007 to April 2009, spanning both the George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama administrations. He has more than 30 years of experience in banking, finance, and investment in the Middle East. Ambassador Fraker currently serves as Senior Advisor to Trinity Group Limited and as a member of the Middle East Advisory Board of the Royal Bank of Scotland. He was formerly Senior Advisor to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co (KKR) and Chairman, KKR Middle East and North Africa.


Dr. John Duke Anthony Dr. John Duke Anthony

Dr. John Duke Anthony is the Founding President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, and currently serves on the United States Department of State Advisory Committee on International Economic Policy and its subcommittee on Sanctions. On June 22, 2000, on occasion of his first official state visit to the United States since succeeding his late father, H.M. King Muhammad VI of Morocco knighted Dr. Anthony, bestowing upon him the Medal of the Order of Ouissam Alaouite, the nation of Morocco’s highest award for excellence. Dr. Anthony is the only American to have been invited to each of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s Ministerial and Heads of State Summits since the GCC’s inception in 1981.

Transcript by Patrick W. Ryan &