UPI: The U.S. State Department told Saudi Arabian officials that the United States has a view of what freedom entails and that Middle Eastern countries like Iran will need to answer to the basic hopes and rights of its people. Counselor Philip Zelikow from the State Department speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington was discussing the future of U.S.-Saudi relations. UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL
By Philip Turner
Washington, DC – The U.S. State Department told Saudi Arabian officials that the United States has a view of what freedom entails and that Middle Eastern countries like Iran will need to answer to the basic hopes and rights of its people.
Counselor Philip Zelikow from the State Department speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington was discussing the future of U.S.-Saudi relations.
Zelikow alluded to the elections due to be held in under a month in Iran, saying the United States will be watching carefully to see what happens in that relatively closed society. “What I think America can do is say, we have a view on what freedom means. We don’t have a precise opinion on how each country should walk that path, but it is not an empty phrase,” he said.
All but six of the 1,000-plus people registered to run in Iran’s presidential election were rejected by the Guardian Council Sunday, the constitutional watchdog that vets the election candidates in that country. The council is controlled by hard-liners loyal to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The council hopes to avoid political reforms offered by the outgoing president, Mohammad Khatami.
“Let’s see what they wish to do. Let’s watch that process with care — keeping in mind whatever standards we think appropriate for evaluating that result — but understanding that different societies are choosing their own paths,” said Zelikow. “What the president is arguing is that there are universal ideals — and they are definable — we urge all countries to find the way to express the ideals which we believe their own citizens hold dear — and we believe that assertion is no more true than in Iran.”
Even if the democratic process results in leaders being elected that do not agree with U.S. policy, Zelikow said, “That’s the thing about freedom — it involves calculated risks. What we have to do is look at the net assessment over the long haul and I think it makes us better long-term partners.”
Before discussing the Iran question, Zelikow focused on U.S.-Saudi relations. He said the Bush administration has been pleased with some of the changes in that country since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and that it must further democratic efforts in the kingdom. He said that prior to recent dialogue between the two countries they did not understand each other at all. “What they did know,” he said, “they did not like.”
Since Sept. 11 Zelikow said the Saudis have gone through a crisis of conscience of sorts. He said Saudi Arabia is a country that prides itself on being blessed by providence and peace. After learning that 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudi, however, the country had to take a long look at itself and its principles.
“Today, the United States and Saudi Arabia have indeed become allies in fighting transnational terror, but there are hard tasks ahead,” said Zelikow. “As our two countries look to the future — it is there we can find the basis for a U.S.-Saudi relationship — a relationship that leaders of both countries will be proud to explain and defend. As the kingdom forms constructive plans, the United States can be there to help.
For instance, Zelikow said young Saudis need to be educated to meet the growing technological demands of the 21st century. He urged the need for immediate economic liberalization that can turn the private sector into a better source for job creation and improved WTO cooperation. Improved dialect between the state and its people and expanded opportunities for voters — especially women — in the kingdom are also essential in promoting positive change, said Zelikow.
“The president noted in his state of the union address that countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt can and should play a leadership role in the Middle East in promoting change and building healthy societies — societies that reject violent extremism,” said Zelikow.
The future of U.S.-Saudi relations depends on a keen understanding of each country’s respective societies, said Zelikow. “It is too easy to demonize and scapegoat Saudi Arabia because of the differences between our societies. The relations must turn on the way we see the future, based on mutual tolerance and mutual respect,” he said.