Monday, June 27, 2005

Condoleezza Rice with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal

Don't under estimate the huge impact the image of an African Amercian Woman representing the United States as Secretary of State has on the world when she stands along side a Saudir Foreign Minister and talks like this below.

(Weekly Standard writes about the impact in today's issue. And here's a link to the earlier speech in Cairo which I think will be remembered in time as a great one.)

QUESTION: First of all, we'd like to welcome -- we'd like to say welcome to Riyadh. (Inaudible) would like to know what the American Government official (inaudible) evaluation regarding the Saudi -- the Saudi Arabian achievement in the following issues: fighting terrorism and human rights side and interior reforms.

Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. We have excellent cooperation on counterterrorism, on fighting terrorism. We share the same goal that al-Qaida and extremism of that type must be defeated. And indeed, we have very close counterterrorism cooperation. We cooperate through our services, through our military training, through every means that we have, to make certain that the people of Saudi Arabia and the people of the United States and the people of the world are safe from the kind of horrors that happened in the United States on September 11th and that happened in Riyadh in May of last year. And so we have very close counterterrorism cooperation.

We believe that the Saudi Government is making progress on reform. We noted the municipal elections that took place. We note that there is a national dialogue underway. Obviously, countries will do this at their own speed, but we encourage reform to go forward as quickly as possible. And as I said, we believe that any reform will expose the fact that there are universal values and freedoms that people
aspire to. And as I've said to the Minister, we believe that the people of the Middle East, including the people of Saudi Arabia, are no different in that regard.

This is a very strong relationship, and on the basis of that strong relationship we can talk about anything at any time. And we have tonight talked about just about everything, which is why you're here at a midnight press conference.

FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: May I add to that that I really don't understand what the row is about about asking for what type of reforms and what speed the reform is taking in our country or the other. After all, we speak to you about it. I don't see why it would be strange to speak to the State Department or the Secretary of State about it. So the row is really meaningless. The assessment is important for any country in the development of its political reform, in the development of its own people, and that is, in the final analysis, the criteria that we follow.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you said in Cairo today that many people in this country pay an unfair price for exercising their basic rights. Did you raise those concerns here today and did you get any sense that things would change on that score?

And, please, to the Foreign Minister, how could Saudi Arabia put people in prison simply for petitioning the government? And also, can you give us your reaction to the
Secretary's speech today in Cairo?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I did raise the issue of the three people who were imprisoned that I raised earlier in Cairo. We have raised it with the Saudi Government in the past and I raised it again tonight. And the Minister will give his own answer, but we will continue to follow the progress of this case. We think it is an important case. And I said exactly to the Minister what I said in Cairo earlier, that the petitioning of the government for reform should not be a crime. The Foreign Minister is open in the way that he discusses these things with us, but I will let him speak for himself.

FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: Thank you. And we did talk about the three prisoners. We don't have any -- and I told the Secretary that they have broken a law; they are in the hands of the court. The government cannot interfere until they -- the court action is taken in this regard.

As to the reaction to the speech, I was so busy in arranging the welcome to the Secretary that I'm afraid I haven't read it, to my eternal shame.

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