Thursday, May 11, 2006

Honorable Americans

The Saudi ambassador learned a lesson on his recent “listening tour” across the United States, where he visited small towns and major cities and met with business executives and community leaders.

Ambassador Prince Turki al-Faisal said he was humbled by the warmth of the audiences he addressed and impressed by Americans’ desire for justice.

“I have been overwhelmed by the warmth and hospitality with which I have been received,” he told the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars this week. “And in return, I extend my warmest greetings and the good will of the Saudi people.”

Prince Turki, no stranger to the United States, graduated from the exclusive Lawrenceville School in New Jersey in 1963 and attended Georgetown University in 1968.

However, his tour across seven states — which included New York City and Manhattan, Kan., brought him into contact with many ordinary Americans who had never before met a member of the Saudi royal family.

“In my travels, I must confess, I have been struck by something else,” he said. “That is the strong aspiration Americans have to seek out and right the injustices that exist in the world.

“That is very powerful because justice is the greatest interest of man on this Earth. It is the glue that holds civilized people and nations together.”

He noted that President Wilson said, “Justice, and only justice, shall always be our motto.”

“The beginning of this millennium has brought much attention and focus on justice and the urgent need to correct injustices. Many injustices have been slowly eroding our global society,” he said, citing the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region, AIDS in Africa and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Prince Turki repeated the peace plan by Saudi King Abdullah, who called on Israel to withdraw to its 1967 borders in exchange for full diplomatic recognition by all Arab nations. He praised President Bush for proposing a Palestinian state and developing the “road map” for Middle East peace and urged Washington to continue its diplomacy in the region.

The ambassador said the Saudi government has called on the Hamas-dominated Palestinian legislature to reject its demand for the destruction of Israel and criticized Israel for its treatment of the Palestinian people.

“The tendencies of the bodies politic in both Israel and Palestine to take as many steps backwards as they have been able to take steps forward underscores the fact that, left to their own devices, the parties will not arrive at peace,” he said.

Taiwan’s best friend

The dispute last week that prompted the president of the Republic of China (Taiwan) to cancel a refueling stop in the United States was just a spat between “close friends,” the top U.S. diplomat in Taiwan said yesterday.

Stephen Young, director of the American Institute in Taiwan, referred to Chen Shui-bian’s decision to avoid stopping in the United States on his way to Latin America last week as he addressed the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei.

“America has been Taiwan’s strongest supporter, and that will continue,” he said. “We have had our disagreements, as close friends inevitably do. President Chen’s recent trip to Latin America in which he chose not to transit the U.S. is a case in point. But such issues can never be allowed to distract us from our enduring common interests.”

Mr. Chen had asked Washington for permission to refuel in San Francisco or New York and was told he could stop only in Anchorage, Alaska. Stopovers in the United States by Taiwanese officials always anger the communist government in China, which claims Taiwan.

Mr. Young noted that Taiwan “faces many new challenges, including the consolidation of democracy and coping with the rise of China,” and added that “America continues to be the island’s steady partner as it navigates these dangerous waters.”

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail

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