Former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Speaks to Students

September 21, 2010  

By Aileen Garcia
aileeng@smu.edu

Former U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Robert Jordan, visited the Tower Center for a lecture on the Middle East. (PHOTO BY AIDA AHMED / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

Former U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Robert Jordan, came to SMU Monday night to speak about the conflicts in the Middle East.

Jordan was selected by President George W. Bush to serve as ambassador from 2001 to 2003. His mission was to strengthen ties with the Saudis after the Sept. 11 attacks that affected U.S. relationships with the Kingdom.

With many firms flocking to the Middle East, Jordan has managed to establish three offices in the region.

“It’s a game of musical chairs in a way,” Jordan said. “A lot of firms are coming into the region and we are staying busy trying to keep competitors from stealing the talent that we already have.”

Jordan said the most talked about country in the Middle East is Iran, which has created a lot of political discussion. In his time with the Saudis he learned they see Iran as a rival and are frustrated with the invasion of Iraq.

From his experience, the Saudis don’t like the idea of withdrawing troops from Iraq and believe the Emirates are in a tougher position because they are neighbors to Iran. Jordan brought some insight on the Iran nuclear weapon situation, which he believes is not in the Emirates’ interest.

Jordan explained that throughout this period, the Saudi population and economy has expanded and that they are furiously looking for sources of natural gas. Saudi Electricity Company is in the process of building 14 new plants.

Along with the search for natural gas, Jordan talked about the new Saudi Arabian King of Dola University, a model that projects other economic zones in the kingdom. The university is thought to rival MIT. They are also building a downtown financial business center to rival Wall Street and a university for women due to house 40,000 students. The Saudis have the money for new developments, totaling a half a trillion dollars.

Jordan shifted his discussion to talk about President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo, which received applause worldwide. He says many were disappointed with the president for not being able to show results in the Middle East but gives praise to Obama for not ignoring the subject and attempting to make a difference.

“I think Obama deserves a lot of credit for trying early in his administrations,” Jordan said. “Bush, however, didn’t attempt to try because of the wide gap. I believe that was a mistake. Had he tried, he would have at least earned some credit for his effort to be a broker for peace.”

Students and Tower Center staff were pleased by the Jordan’s lecture and open discussion at the end.

“He was very updated on the events in the Middle East even though he specializes on the economy,” said Rebin Kawani, an SMU student who is studying international studies. “I think a lot of students can get a lot about the current situation in the Middle East.”

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