31 MARCH - 4 APRIL 2008 - VISIT TO RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA - SUB-COMMITTEE ON NATO PARTNERSHIPS
1. Headed by Karl A. Lamers (DE), Chairman of the Sub-Committee on NATO Partnerships (PCNP) a delegation of NATO Parliamentarians visited Saudi Arabia from 31 March to 4 April to exchange views on issues of common concern. The meetings were conducted in a very open, frank and hospitable atmosphere in which the 13 parliamentarians from 9 NATO member countries discussed a broad range of issues, including Saudi Arabia's foreign and security perspectives and recent developments in the region. Major subjects raised also included the fight against terrorism, the Middle East peace process, NATO's operations in Afghanistan, as well as security and stability in the Gulf. During this first-ever visit of a NATO PA delegation to the country NATO parliamentarians were received by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Interior Minister His Royal Highness Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, and other senior members of the cabinet as well as the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, H.E. Ali Al Mohia, and other government officials. The delegation also met with Members of Majlis Ashoura and experts of the Institute for Diplomatic Studies. Discussions revealed agreement on a broad range of topics, particularly in the need for international co-operation to combat terrorism and the importance to keep the Gulf region stable. Saudi interlocutors acknowledged NATO's contributions to stability "out of area", but held a more sceptical views as to whether NATO and the international community will be able to succeed in Afghanistan. Saudi interlocutors underlined that the door is open for continuing the dialogue.
Meeting at Majlis Ashoura (Consultative Council)
2. The delegation had the privilege of a 90 minute audience with King Abdullah. To tackle a world "in disarray", the King informed the delegation of his recent initiative to an inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue among Muslims, Christians, and Jews to promote better understanding and peace among the people. On the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian relations, the King described this as an "issue of morality and justice". In this context he noted that there is considerable disappointment among Muslims of the aftermath of the Annapolis conference late last year. Contrary to what was expected, Israel continues its repressive policy towards Palestinians and is not abiding by its promises. If Israel would not change course, Arab patience could run out, he warned. Responding to questions by the delegation the King underlined that Saudi Arabia is successfully tackling extremism, on three levels: On the operational level, there have been numerous arrests of terrorists; on the financial level, the responsible Saudi authorities have acted decisively to dry out financing of extremist organisations; and ideologically, the kingdom is actively combating radical ideologies. Referring to a question from the delegation on the state of the world economy, the King said that he considered the oil price "unacceptably high". As to the security and stability on the Arabian peninsula, King Abdullah said that no country alone can completely provide for its own security. He added that stability in the Gulf also depends on many outside factors and that security can no longer be provided only regionally. The world has become a "global village", he said, arguing that it is no longer possible to isolate one region from another. In this context, he pointed also pointed out that many of the Gulf's problems have spilled beyond the region.
3. The delegation and Saudi Arabian officials repeatedly stressed the importance of reconciliation among different religions and the delegation recognised the outstanding example provided by King Abdullah's recent initiative which calls for a dialogue among Muslims, Christians, and Jews. During the visit the delegation also emphasised the common interests and common concerns of NATO and Saudi Arabia which include the security and stability of the region, finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the fight against terrorist groups, and combating proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Saudi officials repeatedly said that they welcome continued dialogue and co-operation with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. The hosts and the delegation concluded this first visit of a NATO PA delegation to Saudi Arabia with the pledge to continue the dialogue to identify common goals and instruments.
4. Saudi officials emphasised that their country wants to live in peace and harmony with all its neighbours. Members of Majlis Ashoura underlined Saudi Arabia's active contributions for security and stability in the Gulf. A member of the Majlis said that "Saudi Arabia stands as a beacon of peace in an unstable region", adding that "the region needs co-operation with NATO". Experts at the Institute for Diplomatic Studies stressed Saudi Arabia's constructive role for peace and stability in the region and its positive contribution to the global economy. Moreover, as home of the two holy Mosques Saudi Arabia's influence on Muslim countries goes well beyond its immediate neighbourhood.
5. Saudi officials considered the Israeli-Palestinian problem at the heart of most conflicts in the region and the main promoter of terrorism in the region and beyond. The chairman of the Majlis Ashoura's Foreign Affairs Committee, Sadaka Yehia Fadil, and other Saudi officials expressed strong criticism of Israel's treatment of its Palestinian neighbours. Saudi interlocutors also criticised that 'the West', and the United States in particular, has in the past often ignored or vetoed UN Security Council Resolutions directed at Israeli action. Asked about a possible recognition of Israel, the chairman of the Majlis Ashoura's Foreign Affairs Committee said that "there will be no (formal diplomatic) recognition of Israel unless it accepts the rights of Palestinians". Host country speakers pointed to Riyadh's efforts to find a solution to the conflict and also stressed the contributions to ease the plight of Palestinians. Moreover, academic experts added that Saudi Arabia has often assisted fellow Muslim countries. For example, according to His Royal Highness Prince Mugren bin Abdulaziz, President of Saudi Intelligence Service, Saudi Arabia has thus far provided more than US$ 500 million in support of the reconstruction efforts after the 2006 Lebanon war.
6. A member of Majlis Ashoura suggested that the invasion of Iraq and a "US tendency to fix things in the Middle East" had destabilised the region. He added that European Allies had "failed to prevent the US from invading Iraq". The US does not accept the advice of Allies nor from Saudi Arabia, the Majlis member maintained, adding that "European policy has been high-jacked by the US." The war in Iraq has deepened the Sunni-Shiite rift according to Dr Asaad Al-Shamlan of the Institute of Diplomatic Studies. But members of the Majlis also emphasised the common interests and common concerns of NATO and Saudi Arabia. In this context they cited, among others, the security and stability of the region, finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the fight against terrorist groups, and prevention of nuclear proliferation. Members of Majlis Ashoura and other Saudi officials repeatedly said that they welcome continued dialogue and co-operation with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
Karl Lamers, Chairman of the Subcommittee on NATO Partnerships and Sadaka Yehia Fadil, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee
7. Saudi interlocutors considered the situation in Iraq as another source of instability. King Abdullah, as well as Prince Mugren and other Saudi officials emphasised that Saudi Arabia is committed to a stable Iraq. Insecurity and instability in Iraq negatively affects Saudi Arabia and Iraq's other neighbours, therefore Riyadh has viable interest in Iraq's security and stability and has already provided financial support to its neighbour. Prince Mugren added that Saudi Arabia prefers a united Iraq and that it supports Iraq as long as its government is working for the Iraqi people. However, Riyadh is against any foreign meddling in Iraq.
8. Saudi interlocutors expressed concern about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and Iran's nuclear programme was also briefly touched during the discussions. There was agreement among all participants that Iran should comply with the demands by the international community. Discussions also revealed consensus that a nuclear-armed Iran would destabilise the whole region as a whole and must be avoided.
9. However, Saudi interlocutors also suggested that the West appeared to apply different standards to Iran and to Israel. A member of the Majlis pointed out that Israel has nuclear weapons and if the world wants Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions, a fair look at the region as a whole would be necessary. Mr Lamers and other members of the delegation stressed that nobody questions Iran's rights that derive from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but that Tehran is in breach of its commitments under the treaty. Although the exchanges did not produce a strategy of how to persuade Tehran to comply with demands by the international community, there was a general consensus among participants that a political-diplomatic solution must be found.
10. Some Saudi interlocutors also expressed concern over Iran's increasing influence in the Gulf and its involvement in neighbouring countries. There were different views on their country's bilateral relationship with Iran with some describing it as good, while others considered it difficult.
11. Host country speakers agreed with the delegation that terrorism is an international problem, not an Islamic or national issue. Members of Majlis Ashoura and other Saudi speakers stressed that "terrorist do not have any linkage to Islam". One academic suggested that it was the US-led invasion of Iraq which has spread terrorism which now poses serious problems to Saudi Arabia, the region and beyond. Several Saudi speakers underlined that the UN should have a prominent role in tackling internationally active terrorist groups. As to the threat faced by Saudi Arabia members of the Majlis Ashoura's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committees stated that their county has countered the threat of terrorism on all levels, including also in terms of security and ideology. The delegation and Saudi Arabian officials repeatedly stressed the importance of reconciliation among different religious groups and the delegation recognised the outstanding example provided by King Abdullah.
12. Prince Mugren, Head of the Security Services, stressed the need for international co-operation in fighting terrorist groups. In the context he reminded the delegation that Saudi Arabia had recently organised an international conference that brought together 17 organisations from different countries to discuss intelligence sharing. Saudi Arabia has strongly contributed to fight terror groups like al Qaeda and has actively shared intelligence with others, thereby preventing many terror attacks world wide, he added. If the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be solved, 80% of the international terrorism would be solved, according to Prince Mugren.
13. Alluding to criticism that had been voiced in the international media that Saudi Arabia had allowed international extremists to develop, host country interlocutors, including the Interior Minister, strongly dismissed this notion. In contrast, they emphasised that their country has also been targeted by al Qaeda, but that it has been successful in combating internationally active terrorist groups. However, as the Interior Minister and others emphasised, no nation alone can win the fight against terrorism alone, but that close international co-operation was necessary.
14. Saudi interlocutors expressed scepticism about the security situation in Afghanistan. Dr. Al-Shamlan considered the "Taliban as strong today as they were before 9/11". Several host country speakers, including the Chief of Staff of the Saudi Armed Forces, General Ali Al Mohia, and Prince Mugren said that "Afghanistan is a tribal conflict and that NATO is losing men and women for nothing". General Al Mohia predicted that "there will be no peace in Afghanistan" and saw no solution for the country. However, no Saudi interlocutor suggested that NATO Allies should pull out from Afghanistan. Members of Majlis Ashoura suggested that many Afghans would consider NATO troops as "occupiers", partly because they feel that Western values are being imposed on them. Some also questioned the legitimacy of the operation in Afghanistan. Members of the delegation reminded host country speakers that NATOs presence in Afghanistan is based on the request by the Afghan government and based on a UN mandate. Some added that the Allies are not doing enough to reach out to the population and that not sufficient assistance is provided for reconstruction. Others pointed to unresolved problems, particularly the continued production of drugs which fuels the Taliban. That drug production and trafficking also poses significant problems for neighbouring countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, was pointed out by experts of the Diplomatic Institute.
15. Members of the delegation explained the role of NATO in Afghanistan and that its presence is based on the request by the Government of Afghanistan as well as mandated by the United Nations Security Council. Members of the delegation also underlined that there is recognition among all NATO Allies that success in Afghanistan requires not only military, but also other instruments in the political, economic, and other realms. Members of Majlis Ashoura as well as academics of the Diplomatic institute that "NATO lacks a convincing and concise policy in Afghanistan". Some also criticised that Saudi Arabia had warned the US against intervening in Afghanistan and Iraq, but that the US had not heeded this warning and that the Allies had "pathetically failed" to dissuade the US administration from invading in Iraq.
Rasa Jukveniciene, Rapporteur of the Sub-committee on NATO Partnerships
16. Members of the delegation repeatedly pointed out that there has been progress in Afghanistan, including in reconstruction and building hope. As Rasa Jukneviciene (LT) and other members of the delegation emphasised, the Allies will only remain as long as necessary in Afghanistan.
17. At a roundtable discussion with the Majlis Ashoura's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committees several interlocutors said that NATO is perceived as a 'subsidiary of US foreign policy'. Members of the delegation underlined that this is not the case and Mr Loic Bouvard (FR) stressed that European and Canadians are the Allies, not the servants, of the US and NATO member countries have freely chosen to be a part of the Alliance.
18. Asked what rights Saudi Arabia would have to give up if it decided to join the Istanbul Co-operation Initiative (ICI), the delegation stressed that Saudi Arabia would not have up to give anything. Rather, joining ICI would provide Riyadh with a broad range of instruments of co-operation and would allow it to strengthen its ability to communicate with NATO member countries to make its voice heard. Members of Majlis Ashoura and speakers at the Institute for Diplomatic Studies provided different views on ICI. While some maintained that the four countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) that have joined ICI thus far had "not much gained from ICI participation" others said that more information about ICI, and NATO in general, was needed. However, Saudi speakers agreed that they want to continue, and if possible, deepen exchanges over ICI. In separate meetings, representatives of NATO member states embassies suggested that Saudi Arabia puts strong emphasis on bi-lateral relations, particularly in the security area. There was a general agreement among all participants that more information about NATO and its role and mission needs to be provided to Saudi authorities and the general public.
19. This first, and very successful, visit of a NATO Parliamentary Assembly delegation concluded with a pledge by all participants to continue and deepen the exchanges over a broad range of issues of common concern.
King Abdullah and Karl Lamers, Chairman of the Sub-committee on NATO Partnerships