Interview of His Excellency Abdulrahman I. AL RASSI, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Abdulrahman I. AL RASSI: Romania in the past 25 years has gone through a long process of changes. After the 1989 revolution the new regime applied fast political pluralism, next spring election came, many parties were formed during that time and even after. As any process, shifting from a regime to another can have its ups and downs, the main political conflict circled around the communist/anti-communist issue. Slowly in years the new political arena started to shape more and more, there was a real desire of independence from the Soviet Union, so integration of the country and re-oriented policy toward the West were the main tendencies.
Romania’s economy during the communist period focused on industrialization and rural development, after 1989, Romania witnessed a real fall of the industrial sector and destruction of several key industries, but assisted to the economic rise and development of the big cities. In the last years Romania improved the environmental protection, focusing on preserving this country natural ecosystem. Romania is now promoting all kind of organic food and products, as it is focusing on renewable energy: solar and wind power. Joining NATO in 2004 was an important step for Romania, as was joining the European Union in 2007.
Romania has matured a lot in the past years, the best proof is the election of the new president Klaus Iohannis, a German ethnic, something which turned out to be an asset not a burden, thus the Romanian electorate has looked beyond religion and ethnicity.
Romanian democracy seems also to be on the right path, corruptions issues being resolved more and more as shown by the last year report of the National Anticorruption Directorate: over 1,100 defendants were prosecuted, over 1,130 defendants were sentenced definitely, the NAD had a wide range of domains to investigations in 2014: health, education, governmental acquisitions, fraud with EU funds.
V.S.: As it is well known, in March, this year, we are celebrating 20 years of diplomatic bilateral relations. How did the diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Romania evolved?
Abdulrahman I. AL RASSI: In 1995, 13 March the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Romania established bilateral diplomatic relations. In 1996 Romania was opening the doors of its embassy in Riyādh, six years later, in 2002, the Saudi embassy opened in Romania. The diplomatic relations moved a little slowly at the beginning, until the Saudi embassy opened in Bucharest, but ever since the diplomatic relations have evolved significantly. Here I can enumerate many official visit exchanges at the level of ministries of foreign affairs and parliament. The President of Majlis Al Shura (Parliament) came the first time to Romania in 1999, at the invitation of the President of the Romanian Senate. This was followed by two other official visits in 2007 and 2011. We had also Romanian officials visiting the Kingdom like the President of the Senate, in 2000 and 2008, President of the Romanian-Saudi Parliamentary Friendship Group in 2011.
In 2003, the Romanian Minister of Foreign Affairs at that time, H.E. Mircea Geoana went on an official visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to present to his homologue letters from the Romanian President and Prime-minister in which they were reaffirming their wish to intensify the relations with Saudi Arabia in all fields. In April 2011, H.E. Teodor Baconschi, Romanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, on the occasion of his official visit to Saudi Arabia, signed, with his homologue, the Agreement of Double Taxation Avoidance between the two countries.
The Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has played a very important role in maintaining and strengthening the diplomatic relations between our two countries, at each occasion the Ministry has proved total availability and readiness to help and support our diplomatic mission here.
V.S.: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has known many positive transformations. We must admit the important role your country plays within OPEC. What can you tell us about it?
Abdulrahman I. AL RASSI: As it is well known, Saudi Arabia is a founding member of OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) and in the same time its largest producer. OPEC was created in 1960, it targets to unify petroleum policies among its member countries, and ensures stability in international oil markets by eliminating fluctuations in prices. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has made efforts, through this organization, to help prevent market crises that threatened to harm both oil producers and consumers. Historically, Saudi Arabia played the role of swing producer, maintaining collective quotas in by cutting its own production below levels that would maximize its revenues, thus sacrificing its own economic benefits in order to keep the organization running.
V.S.: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia confronts great challenges because of the ISIS organization. In the context of world counterterrorism, Saudi Arabia promoted its own strategies to fight this scourge and promote security in the Middle East. Please give us some details about some of these strategies.
Abdulrahman I. AL RASSI: Terrorism is a key issue and an international phenomenon that affects several countries and large communities with various ethnic minorities and religious groups. It leads to a disruption of the progress and development, and as result of these acts valuable resources are exhausted. The Kingdom seeks for peace in the Middle East and tries to fight terrorism.
Last year Saudi Arabia hosted the first regional counter-terrorism conference against ISIS. Representatives of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, as well as the US, like the State Secretary John Kerry, attended the gathering and tried to come up with solutions.
The Kingdom has initiated several initiatives to counter the extremist mindset and to strengthen moderation and tolerance among its citizens. Here I can name a few efforts: ”The public awareness campaign”, a campaign meant to intensify the conceptions of the true values of the Islamic faith and to make public to Saudi citizens the dangers of extremism and terrorism; ”Public and religious education”, an ongoing program to adapt text books to modern times and curricula, to introduce improved teaching methods and provide better training for educators, meant to combat extremism and prepare Saudi citizens for life in a global economy; ”Rehabilitation Program”, intended to reintegrate deviants / extremists back into society, change their behaviour, change their beliefs (de-radicalize them), also to ”size up” according to the normality’s features. It is aimed to target deviants who have completed their prison sentences. The program reeducates violent, dangerous extremists and extremist sympathizers by offering them intensive religious debates and psychological counselling. The goal is for them to cancel ideologies that espouse terrorism.
The methods of fighting terrorism used by Saudi Arabia through last decades have set the basis of the global actions and have been proven to be successful. The methods include military force, ideologies, ideas and economic components, focused on cutting financial funding for these groups, both internally and externally, encouraging dialogue and tolerance among people all over the world, offering support to any institution or centre involved in the fight against this disease. It is a fact that Saudi Arabia uses a lot of valuable resources to help other countries fight the same fight against terrorism for the same purpose: to install a sustainable peace among nations.
V.S.: How are the relations between Saudi Arabia and the other countries in the Middle East, does Saudi Arabia help the other Arab countries to maintain regional stability from all points of views?
Abdulrahman I. AL RASSI: Saudi Arabia has good relations with all its neighbours, one of the main preoccupations of the Kingdom since its establishment was maintaining stability, not only within its borders, but also outside, the stability from political, economic and social perspectives.
Saudi Arabia has managed to keep a consistent political strategy, having very well framed internal and external policies. Since the foundation, Saudi Arabia focused, in terms of foreign policy, to maintain worldwide peace by proposing solutions, resolutions, mediating conflicts, and even appealing to its financial resources and donating important amounts to organizations involved in this fight to obtain a peaceful coexistence.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia leads an important and influential role also in the international efforts to achieve global economic stability. The formulation of a global economic system contributes to the goal of promoting strong growth, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is working to enhance the stability of global energy markets through its effective role in the global oil market. Such stability takes into account the interests of oil producing and consuming countries by retaining additional production capacity to meet the increasing global demand.
Saudi Arabia provides support for each humanitarian case and seeks to achieve sustainable development in many poor countries, regardless of religion or ethnicity. Allow me to give you some examples of this aids offered by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia just last year:
In August 2014, Saudi Arabia donated $100 million to the U.N. Counter-Terrorism Centre and $1 Billion to Lebanese Security Services to Combat Terrorism.
In July 2014, 5 billion dollars financial aid for supporting the Egyptian economy while in June the Kingdom paid 6 months of rent for 1,000 displaced Syrian families in Lebanon.
May 2014 – work started on $270 million Saudi-funded road in Jordan. In March the Kingdom donates $1 million to UN Human Rights Commission.
In 2014 Saudi Arabia offered the UN World Food Programme 500 million dollars.
Saudi Arabia is a young country, which managed to register one of the fastest development ever, becoming in a short period one of the most important powers of the world. Saudi Arabia has provided a base for its stability, by keeping an equilibrium between tradition, religion and modernity, by keeping a fruitful economy and a secure country, becoming also a strong support for stability in the region.
V.S.: As dean of the Arab Ambassador’s Group you had special relations with the ambassadors of the Arab states appointed in Bucharest. There were good times and tense times. Can you give us some examples of both?
Abdulrahman I. AL RASSI: The relations with the other Arab embassies are very good, I can assure you that there were only good times. There is a special dialogue and collaboration among the Arab ambassadors accredited to Romania, each month we have our group meeting were we discuss many issues. We help each other whenever we can and we support each other causes. We have really strong bounds.
V.S.: This month you end you mission here in Romania. During our discussions you mentioned the fact that you are going to Moscow. How do you see the diplomatic, economic and strategic relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Russian Federation? Will it be a difficult mission?
Abdulrahman I. AL RASSI: Russia is a great country that plays a very important role in the political arena, it is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and member of many other organizations and alliances: G20, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Council of Europe, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, World Trade Organization.
The relation of Saudi Arabia with the Russian Federation is based on mutual respect. Russia was the first country to establish diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, we have strong diplomatic relations, Russia and Saudi Arabia have been actively developing dialogue between their foreign ministries, as they have been developing at the head of states level. In 2003, Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, who later was the sixth king of Saudi Arabia from 2005 to 2015, went to Moscow on an official visit, during which he held talks with President Vladimir Putin, while in 2007, President Putin paid an official visit to Saudi Arabia.
For sure it will be a difficult mission because of the importance of Russia, but what comforts me most is the diplomatic environment in Moscow and the existence of a good cooperation at the level of embassies extended up to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which for sure will make it easier.
V.S.: Your Excellency,
I would like to thank you for the special involvement to finalize our projects. We thank you for everything you did during your diplomatic mission in Romania for developing the bilateral relations.
Allow me to wish you success in Moscow, and remind you that here you have true friends.