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Saudi Ambassador to US Calls for More Exchanges


The Saudi ambassador to the United States, Turki Al-Faisal, says the two countries have a strong relationship, despite their disagreements. The Saudi diplomat spoke before a group called Town Hall Los Angeles, where he called for more exchanges between the two nations.

The Saudi official said his country and the United States cooperate in the fight against terrorism, a threat he says requires a global response. And, despite their disagreements at the start of the war in Iraq, he says both nations support a unity government that will bring together Iraq's feuding parties. But he says the US-Saudi relationship has had its ups and downs, and probably will in the future.

"This is the nature of any relationship, whether between friends or between countries," said Turki Al-Faisal. "Ultimately, we always return to seeing the real reason why we stick it out with one another. And that is because, quite simply, we work well together."

Israel tops the list of issues of disagreement. Saudi Arabia refuses to recognize Israel and rejects the Camp David accords, brokered by President Carter, saying they do not adequately ensure Palestinian rights or settle the status of Jerusalem. The Saudis support a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian issue, and have offered their own solutions, but none has gained traction among the major parties.

Many US political commentators have noted that 15 of the 19 hijackers behind the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States were Saudi citizens. And questioners in Los Angeles asked about intolerance in Saudi Arabia, where the rights of women and religious minorities are restricted.

He said his government is modernizing its schools and working to expand women's rights and will, some day, allow women to vote. But he said Saudi Arabia will never allow public places of worship for Christians and Jews.

The ambassador was educated in the United States, attending Georgetown University in Washington. He told his audience that Americans have stereotypes about Muslims and Arabs, who, in turn have some false views about Americans.

"That is why meetings like this, and questions and answers like this, are equally as important to be held in Los Angeles for an official of Saudi Arabia as it is for an American official in Jedda or in Riyadh or in Islamabad and so on," he said.

He noted that the US undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, Karen Hughes, visited his country several months ago, where she was grilled by skeptical students about US policy. He says his trip to Los Angeles is the exchange visit.