Jeddah-, Asharq Al-Awsat- The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Sultan held talks with Karen Hughes, US undersecretary for public diplomacy and a close confidante of President George W. Bush, in this eastern Saudi city on Tuesday.
During the meeting, also attended by Saudi foreign minister Saud al Faisal and other high-ranking officials, Hughes conveyed the president’s warmest regards to the Saudi monarch. She also praised King Abdullah for promoting tolerance and dialogue in Saudi society. She expressed her happiness at visiting Saudi Arabia and hoped she could contribute to strengthen relations between the two allies.
The undersecretary commended Saudi Arabia’s efforts in the fighting terrorism. “I salute the Kingdom’s efforts to work with us to combat terrorism,” she said. Her comments came as the White House released a memorandum by President Bush to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice indicating, “I attest to that Saudi Arabia is cooperating in the global war on terrorism.”
Hughes’ visit is part of a listening tour of the region which includes stopovers in three Middle Eastern countries, Egypt , Saudi Arabia , and Turkey , following her appointment to improve the image of the United States and to listen to a wide spectrum of opinions on the current administration.
Hughes arrived in the coastal city of Jeddah late Monday from the Egyptian capital accompanied by a number of US journalists and immediately met with Saudi Minsiter Information, Iyad Madani.
On Tuesday, the undersecretary held a 90-minute open discussion with several students and faculty members from Dar al Hekma, a private college for women in Jeddah, to inquire about their views of America and hear their criticisms and objections to US policies.
The discussion centered on women’s rights and the importance of work and education. Members of the audiences remarked Hughes shied away form responding to questions on US plans to improve its reputation in the region and address Arab and Islamic concerns.
Hughes” next stop was at the Jeddah Westin hotel with its beautiful sea view, where she attended a lunch in her honor, organized by the Saudi Journalists Association followed by a joint press conference with its chairman, Turki al Sudairy, who said bilateral relations were historic and unique.
Hughes said, “I would like to express my gratitude and respect to this country which is the cradle of Islam. I am proud of the excellent relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States and the exceptional cooperation between the two countries. Despite occasional disagreements, we have much in common.”
The undersecretary spoke of her admiration of the Saudi security forces and their role in the fight against terrorism and presented her condolences to the families of the 40 policemen killed in confrontations with Islamic militants.
Hughes thanked His Royal Highness for his pronouncements and decisions throughout the years and said, “King Abdullah”s decisions promote tolerance in Saudi society." She also commended his support for women and their right for employment.
Commenting on her visit of the region, Hughes said it had three main aims, amongst them “To take care of the young generation and ensure their future is build on forgiving and dialogue." The trip also sought to isolate those encouraging a culture of violence and those who forbid girls from receiving an education, as the Taliban regime had done. The undersecretary stressed the importance of promoting and cultivating a culture of tolerance between religions and civilizations.
Previously an aide to the president, Hughes contributed to improving the president’s image with US voters in the last election. A former journalist, the undersecretary is renowned for her close relationship with Bush.