London/Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia and the United States signed an agreement for a “trusted traveler” program on Thursday in Washington D.C., reaffirming the strong bond between the two countries. The agreement was signed by Saudi Interior Minister Prince Mohammed Bin Naif and US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. This program is expected to further facilitate travel and boost trade between the US and Saudi Arabia.
In a joint statement, the Saudi Interior Ministry (MOI) and US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said “The trusted traveler programs will facilitate trade and travel between Saudi Arabia and the United States and will help authorities from the MOI and DHS more effectively identity potential threats to keep their borders and countries secure.”
US Customs and Border Protection’s trusted traveler program, Global Entry, allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers on arrival in the US. This allows customs authorities to focus on those travelers they know less about in order to more effectively identity potential threats For his part, Saudi Cultural Attaché to Washington D.C., Dr. Mohamed Al-Eisa, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that this agreement—along with all other agreements signed by Interior Minister Prince Mohammed Bin Naif during his visit to America—will undoubtedly contribute to advancing relations between the two countries. He added that the trusted traveler programs will facilitate travel between the two countries, emphasizing that this will be very important for Saudi scholarship students in the US.
He said, “There is great anticipation regarding the results of the Saudi Interior Minister’s visit to Washington. Prince Mohammed Bin Naif is a figure who is well known and widely respected by US officials.”
The number of Saudi tourists visiting the US has witnessed a steady increase over the past three years. One hundred thousand Saudi nationals visited the US in 2011, whereas this figure stood at 180,000 in 2012. This increase is largely attributed to the presence of some seventy thousand Saudi scholarship students in the US. Saudi students reportedly make up the 6th largest demographic of foreign studies in the US.
Speaking at the signing of the agreement, Janet Napolitano said, “I am proud of the bond between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and today’s meeting marks another major step forward in our partnership. By enhancing collaboration with the Government of Saudi Arabia, we reaffirm our commitment to more effectively secure our two countries against evolving threats while facilitating trade and travel.”
The joint MOI-DHS statement also noted “emerging cooperation on cybersecurity.” The statement read, “MOI and DHS have a mutual interest in partnering to protect critical vital government and private sector infrastructure of bi-national importance, and to make cyberspace more secure for citizens of both countries” adding “given the significance of each nation in the global economy, this partnership also contributes to global security.”