In his meetings with King Abdullah in Riyadh, President Obama reiterated the significance the United States places on its strong relationship with Saudi Arabia, which has endured for over 80 years. The United States and Saudi Arabia are working together to address a number of critical bilateral and regional issues, including resolving the crisis in Syria, preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, counterterrorism efforts to combat extremism, and supporting negotiations to achieve Middle East peace.
Defense Cooperation: U.S. and Saudi defense forces enjoy outstanding partnerships and regularly participate in joint exercises to advance shared interests in Gulf security. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the largest U.S. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) customer, with active and open cases valued at approximately $97 billion, as Saudi forces build capabilities across the full spectrum of regional challenges. The United States and Saudi Arabia currently are enhancing partnerships on critical infrastructure and border security, including on the Interior Ministry’s multi-billion dollar initiative to enhance land and coastal border defenses.
Counterterrorism: Saudi Arabia has been a strong U.S. counterterrorism (CT) partner, particularly on disrupting Al Qaeda (AQ) elements. We work closely with Saudi authorities on a range of CT issues, including countering terrorist financing (CTF), and the United States and Saudi Arabia work together to help various nations in the region counter shared terrorist threats.
Bilateral Trade and Investment: U.S. exports to Saudi Arabia exceeded $35 billion in 2013, including direct exports of $19 billion (a 76 percent increase since 2009) and roughly $2 billion in service exports (Engineering, Procurement, and Construction; Design; Financial; and Legal). Indirect exports and other goods and services were valued at an additional $15 billion. The bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement provides a forum for the United States and Saudi Arabia to explore ways to advance economic relations. Among other successes, Saudi Arabia has followed up on its commitment to improve its intellectual property rights regime since being removed from the United States Trade Representative’s Special 301 Watch List in 2010. Continual improvements in its intellectual property rights regime facilitate the Kingdom’s efforts to develop a diversified knowledge economy and improve the investment climate for U.S. businesses.
Energy Cooperation: As U.S. oil and gas production increases, and as Saudi Arabia works to diversify its energy mix and improve energy efficiency, our longstanding bilateral cooperation on energy issues is getting stronger, not just on conventional energy market issues, but also energy efficiency, renewable and other alternative energy sources, and science and technology research. For example, Saudi Arabia is working with the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory on measuring its solar energy resources. The Saudis are also working with the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and others on developing energy efficiency for the Kingdom, including automotive fuel economy standards. The United States and Saudi Arabia hold an annual Bilateral Energy Dialogue to explore broader energy cooperation, including potential cooperation on advanced geothermal research and other issues relating to alternative energies.
Educational Programs: There are more Saudi students in the United States now than ever before, with approximately 80,000 Saudi students in the United States representing Saudi Arabia’s future political, business, and social leadership. U.S. education and the American experience help to shape Saudi Arabia’s future workplace and national outlook and will encourage new perspectives on diversity, tolerance, and global affairs.
Citizen Exchanges: The United States and Saudi Arabia have a decades-long history of citizen exchanges. International Visitor Leadership Programs (IVLP) focus on interfaith dialogue, volunteerism, women’s empowerment, entrepreneurship, and public health issues. A number of American Fulbright scholars are working with Saudi higher education institutions to develop and strengthen their graduate curricula and offer new academic majors. Several thousand Saudis have participated in citizen exchange programs over the past several decades.
Science and Technology Cooperation: In keeping with its interest in developing knowledge-based industries, Saudi Arabia has significantly expanded its scientific research and technological development. Under the U.S.-Saudi Science and Technology Agreement, signed in 2008, the King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology (KACST) is currently working with NASA on several projects including the Aerosol Robotic Network (AERONET) and space geodesy and geodynamics research. KACST also collaborates with numerous U.S. universities and is exploring collaborative programs with the U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Energy on projects important to both of our countries, including dust storm monitoring, seismic imaging of the Earth’s crust, and solar energy.
Environmental Programs: Saudi Arabia joined the Global Methane Initiative in January 2014, providing a vehicle for enhanced cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce emissions of a powerful greenhouse gas. The Department of Energy, through an MOU signed in 2010, and the EPA are also working to enhance cooperation with the Kingdom on research and application of carbon capture, use, and storage.
Health Cooperation Programs: The United States and Saudi Arabia have been close partners in health cooperation for over three decades. Currently, a number of U.S. scientists have collaborative National Institutes of Health grants with Saudi partners. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a long history with the Saudi Ministry of Health and Saudi Arabian National Guard Health Affairs; both have hosted CDC experts for one to two year stints and work with the CDC on infectious disease surveillance during the yearly Hajj pilgrimage. CDC also works closely with Saudi Arabia on a range of issues including smoking cessation, breast cancer awareness, control and prevention of diabetes and heart disease, and epidemiology and surveillance of infectious diseases.