This event was held May 11, 2017 from 1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Our panel of Saudi Arabian and American officials and analysts discussed the impact of U.S. and Saudi Arabian cooperation on counter terrorism.
H.E. Ambassador Abdullah Almouallimi
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Lieutenant Colonel Khalid Alzahrani
Ministry of Interior, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Ambassador Ford Fraker
Former U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (2007-2009)
President of the Middle East Policy Council
Ambassador Richard J. Schmierer
Chairman, Board of Directors, Middle East Policy Council
Former U.S. Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman
Dr. Thomas R. Mattair
Executive Director, Middle East Policy Council
The Middle East Policy Council convened a special event at the National Press Club on Thursday, May 11th, "Examining U.S.-Saudi Counterterrorism Cooperation" featured current and former members of administrations from each nation with in-depth experience with the history of this cooperation. Richard J. Schmierer (former U.S. Ambassador to Oman; Chairman of the Board of Directors, Middle East Policy Council) gave opening remarks and Thomas Mattair (Executive Director, Middle East Policy Council) was the discussant. The panelists included H.E. Ambassador Abdullah Almouallimi (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's Permanent Representative to the United Nations); Lt. Colonel Khalid Alzahrani (Ministry of Interior, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia); and Ambassador Ford Fraker (Former U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 2007-09, and President of the Middle East Policy Council).
H.E. Ambassador Almouallimi recalled the many instances when Saudi Arabia has been a victim of terrorism since 1979, a reality that contradicts the claim that Saudi Arabia supports or enables terrorism in any way. Contrary to global perceptions, the majority of victims of terrorism are Muslims. The Saudi view is that defeating terrorism will be a long-term struggle requiring consistent international cooperation and dedication. Beyond intelligence and security-based efforts, the Saudi government has made substantial commitments to this struggle domestically: founding the most successful rehabilitation and integration program in the world and establishing a media center to track extremist rhetoric from a wide range of media outlets and sources. Beyond its important coordination and sharing of intelligence with global allies, the Saudis also funded the United Nations Center for Counterterrorism, in 2011. H.E. Ambassador Almouallimi concluded by reiterating that terrorism has no relationship to race, religion or ethnicity; all derogatory rhetoric based on these factors only adds fuel to violent extremism; and the battle against terrorism is long-term, multifaceted and must involve international cooperation. He also noted that the economic and social inequities that often foster terrorism must be addressed.
Lt. Colonel Alzahrani also recalled the heavy toll Saudi Arabia has suffered due to terrorism, remembering the victims of the hundreds of terrorist attacks in the Kingdom since 1979. But he also highlighted Saudi Arabia’s improved capacity to respond due to better coordination between different security services in country and securing the northern and southern borders with the goal of disrupting weapon-smuggling routes. The Saudi approach to counterterrorism rests on three main pillars: security, ideology, and financing. On the security pillar, there has been significant progress in upgrading the equipment and coordination between security services, as well as sanctioning many of the materials used in explosives. On the ideological front, the Kingdom adopted a policy of prevention, creating school courses designed to counter terrorism and increase a sense of civic duty. These efforts are complemented by events and seminars with Saudis returning from the battlefield. In terms of disrupting terrorist financing, the Saudis created a specific bureau tasked with curtailing financing from local banks or cash transfers. These efforts have been reinforced by requirements that credit cards be used for donations, and restrictions on working with organizations abroad. Lt. Colonel Alzahrani concluded by asking people to have an open mind about better understanding the serious efforts underway to counter terrorism and how countries can adapt them to counter their own domestic threats.
Ambassador Fraker also reminded the audience of the steep price terrorists have extracted from the Kingdom, noting that his post there was considered a “critical mission” by the Department of State due to existing security threats. This meant that dependents including husbands, wives and children could not accompany U.S. embassy personnel in Saudi Arabia. Ambassador Fraker partnered closely with the Ministry of Interior (MOI) on counterterrorism efforts in this period, most notably through the founding of OPM-MOI, a joint venture between the U.S. and Saudi governments to provide training and support to a 30,000-man Saudi force tasked with protecting domestic oil and gas facilities. This successful effort, building on others before it, reaffirmed Saudi Arabia as the country with the greatest counterterrorism cooperation with the United States globally. Ambassador Fraker summarized General Stanley McCrystal’s view that there are “three wars” surrounding counterterrorism efforts: the long-term war for the hearts and minds; the medium-term war whereby terrorist networks are identified and attacked; and the short-term “kinetic” war where terrorists are killed and captured on a daily basis. General McCrystal believed that the most important (and cheapest) effort was the long war, but that this was not given enough focus at the time. Ambassador Fraker underlined the continued cooperation with the U.S. Department of Treasury to stymie terrorist access to funding, another example of how U.S.-Saudi cooperation continues to go from “strength to strength.”
The full video from the event is available on the C-Span website here. For members of the media interested in contacting these speakers or other members of the Middle East Policy Council’s leadership, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.