Vision 2030: Enhancing American and Saudi Arabian Business and Investment Dynamics

On June 20, 2017, the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center, and the U.S.-GCC Corporate Cooperation Committee hosted a public affairs briefing on “Vision 2030: Enhancing American and Saudi Arabian Business and Investment Dynamics” in Washington, DC.

Featured specialists included Dr. John Duke Anthony, Dr. Paul Sullivan, Mr. Fahad Nazer, and Mr. Edward Burton.

A video and podcast recording of the program, along with presentation slides from Dr. Sullivan and Mr. Burton, are available below.

“Vision 2030: Enhancing American and Saudi Arabian Business and Investment Dynamics” podcast (.mp3)

Dr. Paul Sullivan slides (.pdf)

Mr. Edward Burton slides (.pdf)

How the World Turns: Saudi Arabia in Transition

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Following is important background information. It has to do with numerous high-profile administrative changes made by Saudi Arabia Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud in the past few weeks in the government of Saudi Arabia. Of special significance is the appointment of a new Ambassador to the United States, HRH Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, and a new Minister for Culture and Information, H.E. Dr. Awwad bin Saleh bin Abdullah Al-Awwad.

HRH Prince Khalid bin Salman was previously an adviser to the Saudi Arabian Minister of Defense, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Royal Court, and the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C. He is also an accomplished F-15 pilot and was one of the first Saudi Arabian fighter pilots to conduct attacks on ISIS in Syria. H.E. Dr. Awwad Al-Awwad was most recently the Kingdom’s envoy in Germany.

Note also the more than a dozen new ministerial-level appointments of governors and deputy governors of various among the Kingdom’s 13 provinces. Note, too, the assignment of new director-generals to key agencies responsible for various aspects of the country’s modernization and development.

Saudi Arabian princes and ministers designated to new posts with the King, Crown Prince, and Deputy Crown Prince.

Saudi Arabian princes and ministers designated to new posts with the King, Crown Prince, and Deputy Crown Prince. Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

The declaration of such changes will naturally invite close examination and comment by specialists. This is to be predicted. What even the country’s critics will be unable to deny, however, is that the shakeup in the upper echelons of the country’s leaders gives the lie to those – and no doubt there are many – among the country’s critics, adversaries, and enemies who tend to dismiss any announcement that contains positive information about and insight into the Kingdom as rubbish.

As ever, these include those that are prone to perceiving the nature and extent of any Saudi Arabian governmental commitment to economic or any other kind of reforms as insincere, deceptive, cosmetic, and/or sclerotic. These will almost certainly do the same in this case.

The latest changes illustrate not only the degree to which important components of the Kingdom’s reforms are underway. They also demonstrate that among the reasons the reforms are being undertaken is an effort to enhance the country’s image, reputation for, and the increasing reality of its public sector accountability.

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Statements From Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Meetings with President Trump & Secretary Mattis

March 14, 2017Statement from a senior adviser to Saudi Arabian Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump (via Bloomberg)

March 15, 2017White House readout of President Donald Trump’s meeting with Saudi Arabian Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

March 16, 2017Opening remarks from Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’ meeting with Saudi Arabian Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Pentagon

March 16, 2017Readout of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’ meeting with Saudi Arabian Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Pentagon

Counter-Terrorism and Saudi Arabia

On June 9, 2016, the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations and the U.S.-GCC Corporate Cooperation Committee hosted a public affairs briefing on “Counter-Terrorism and Saudi Arabia” in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC.

Nawaf Althari, Counter-Terrorism Adviser for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Permanent Mission to the United Nations, addresses a National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Capitol Hill public affairs briefing on June 9, 2016.

The featured specialist was Mr. Nawaf Althari, Counter-Terrorism Adviser for Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Permanent Mission to the United Nations. Dr. John Duke Anthony, Founding President and CEO, National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, and Member, U.S. Department of State Advisory Committee on International Economic Policy and Subcommittee on Sanctions, served as moderator and facilitator.

A video recording and a podcast of the program are available below. The podcast can also be found in iTunes along with recordings of other National Council programs: http://bit.ly/itunes-ncusar.

“Counter-Terrorism and Saudi Arabia: A Conversation with the United Nations’ Nawaf Althari” podcast (.mp3)

Arabia to Asia: The Myths of an American “Pivot” and Whether or Not There’s a U.S. Strategy Toward the GCC Region

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That the foreign policies of various governments often appear to be confusing or contradictory is because they frequently are. During Barack Obama’s presidency, such inconsistency has seemed to characterize aspects of America’s relations with the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The ambiguity and uncertainty that accompanies it is among the things that Obama has sought to dispel and clarify in the course successively of his March 2014 visit to Saudi Arabia, his May 2015 summit at Camp David with senior leaders of all six GCC countries, and his mid-April 2016 attendance at a similar meeting with leaders of the same countries. As this essay seeks to demonstrate, what he has had to contend with – and what others of late have had to contend with regarding aspects of his administration — in terms of background, context, and perspective has not been easy of resolution, amelioration, or even abatement.

Assumptions, Ambitions, and Abilities

Dating from before and since these high-level GCC-U.S. meetings, Washington has taken steps to strengthen and extend America’s overall position and influence in the GCC region. A principal means for doing so has been through the GCC-U.S. Strategic Dialogue.[1] But one example among several was when former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, along with Secretary of State John Kerry, came with approvals for billions of dollars in sales of U.S.-manufactured defense and security structures, systems, technology, and arms to GCC countries, together with long-term munitions and maintenance contracts.

President Barack Obama attends a U.S.-GCC summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in April 2016. Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

President Barack Obama attends a U.S.-GCC summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in April 2016. Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

Yet, simultaneously, signals from Washington and the mainstream U.S. media before and since Obama’s meetings with his GCC counterparts have not always been as clear as the signalers thought would or should be the case. That said, what specialists have had no doubt about for some time is that the Obama administration is recalibrating the strategic focus of its international priorities in hopes of being able to accomplish two objectives at the same time. One objective has been, and continues to be, a steadfast resolve to remain committed to the security, stability, and prospects for prosperity in the GCC region. The other has been and remains a parallel determination to emphasize the Asia-Pacific regions.

Affecting the need for such a recalibration have been major U.S. budget reductions and their impact on strategic concepts, forces, and operational dynamics. At issue and under examination in this regard, according to the Secretary of Defense in advance of the most recent Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), are, and for the foreseeable future will continue to be, America’s assumptions, ambitions, and abilities.

Understandably, the GCC region’s reaction to these trends and indications was and continues to be mixed.

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President Obama’s Meeting with GCC Leaders in Saudi Arabia: An Opportunity for Heightened Cooperation

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This week President Obama will travel to Riyadh to meet with King Salman of Saudi Arabia. The next day he is scheduled to meet with leaders of the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

According to a White House Press Briefing, these meetings will be broken into three sessions – one on regional stability, one on defeating ISIL and al-Qaeda and counterterrorism cooperation, and one on Iran and efforts to prevent the Islamic Republic’s destabilizing actions across the region.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Sa’ud and President Barack Obama during the king’s September 2015 visit to Washington. Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

The day before the meeting of the two heads of state, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is expected to meet with Saudi Arabian and GCC nation defense officials. According to U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, that meeting will focus on “enhancing GCC capability, interoperability and how to confront asymmetrical threats.” Mr. Rhodes also expects that the U.S. Defense Secretary “will have specific conversations about how to enhance certain defense capabilities across the Gulf.” Whether this might advance further consideration of a reported pan-GCC missile defense system in which several GCC members have expressed an interest and willingness to purchase – and which the American aerospace and defense manufacturing sectors remain prepared to sell, though there are reports that the Israel lobby and a leading American think tank are allegedly opposed – remains unclear.

Sticks and Stones

President Obama’s visit comes at a propitious moment. It will take place at a time when aspects of U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia and GCC countries are being vilified. U.S. domestic political campaign rhetoric, legislation contemplated by the U.S. Congress, the media, and special interests are seemingly opposed to strengthening and expanding America’s strategic, economic, national security, and related interests with and in Saudi Arabia and the other GCC countries. In addition, the visit comes on the heels of President Obama’s comments in a recent article in The Atlantic in which he was characterized as portraying various Arab and GCC allies as “free riders” and thinking that Saudi Arabia needs to “share” the neighborhood with Iran. If the quoted remarks accurately depict the President’s views, the implication is inescapable: namely, such comments from a sitting U.S. President can only cause America’s longstanding GCC allies to wonder how the U.S. head of state really analyzes and assesses their value as strategic partners and American allies in what is arguably the world’s most vital region.

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Answering President Obama’s “Free Riders” Allegations

In yesterday’s Arab News and Alsharq Al-Awsat, HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal defended the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against some of U.S. President Barack Obama’s disparaging comments quoted in the recent Atlantic article, “The Obama Doctrine.”

In the article, President Obama declared that “free riders” – that is, other countries, which by clear implication he included Saudi Arabia and an unspecified number of additional Arab allies – “aggravate me.” Obama stressed that he wants such countries to take action for themselves, rather than wait for the United States to lead.

As Prince Turki points out – but which the article overlooks, ignores, or downplays – this is exactly what Riyadh has done. In keeping with American intelligence and targeting assistance that the president himself authorized, Saudi Arabia has responded to the threat represented by Iran-backed insurgent rebels along the kingdom’s southern border. The kingdom has also been the sole country thus far to contribute to the New York-based United Nations Counter Terrorism Implementation Task Force – to the tune of $100 million.

In addition, the kingdom has initiated the formation of a multi-country coalition numbering nearly two dozen Arab and Islamic countries designed specifically to fight terrorism and terrorists wherever they appear, including within Saudi Arabia itself. Further, not mentioned are the steps Riyadh has recently taken alongside the armed forces representatives of more than two dozen other Arab and other Islamic allied countries. For the second year in succession, the representatives witnessed the kingdom’s mobilization and deployment of more than 130,000 of its armed services personnel. This demonstrates precisely the kinds of defense capabilities that Washington officialdom has long stated it wishes to see manifested by and within the kingdom and other GCC countries.

HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal speaking at the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference.

What Prince Turki did not point out but other prominent Saudi Arabians have is how Obama administration officials, in contrast to the president’s recent remarks, have repeatedly commended Saudi Arabia in ways other than those noted. They have done so in regard to the kingdom’s creative approach to doing what it can to end the scourge of extremist violence within and beyond its borders.

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“Gulf Cooperation Council: Role in Regional Dynamics” – 24th Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference

Session on Gulf Cooperation Council: Role in Regional Dynamics with Dr. John Duke Anthony, Ambassador (Ret.) Dr. Richard J. Schmierer, Mr. Khaled Almaeena, Dr. Abdullah AlShayji, and Ms. Elizabeth Wossen from the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ 24th Annual Arab-US Policymakers’ Conference, “U.S.-Arab Relations at a Crossroads: What Paths Forward?,” on October 14, 2015, in Washington, DC.

Watch on YouTube

Listen to Podcast (.mp3)

Read Transcript (.pdf)