Pace Confers with Saudi Leaders on Cooperation With U.S.
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, March 23, 2006 The top U.S. general met with Saudi Arabian leaders here yesterday and discussed cooperation between the United States and the kingdom.
In his first official visit as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace praised Saudi King Abdullah for his "open and candid" discussions.
Pace arrived here from Pakistan yesterday and met with Abdullah for more than an hour. He also met with Crown Prince Sultan, who also is minister of defense and aviation; Prince Khalid, assistant minister; and Chief of the General Staff Gen. Salih Al-Muhayya. "I told each of them that I have come to listen to them and to learn about ways that we can be a good partner to them to the benefit of both our countries," Pace said during an interview.
Pace said he spoke about opportunities for the two countries to train together in air, land and sea exercises. The Saudis also spoke about the U.S. foreign military sales program and equipment they are interested in buying.
"We talked about the region and the situations in ... Iraq and Afghanistan and how they view (them)," Pace said. "I asked them their opinions on what the next step ought to be."
The Saudi leaders made it clear to the general that they want America's long-term commitment to the region. They welcome U.S. commitment "to the stability of the region and working with regional leaders to strike the right balance between force size and ability to reinforce," Pace said.
Pace said he discussed each of the countries of the region with respect to relationships, opportunities to strengthen relationships, and "concerns about particular countries should they continue down the paths they are on."
Pace explained that the Saudis are seeking to modernize their forces in a way that keeps them interoperable with U.S. forces. They are interested in buying new U.S. equipment and expanded military exercise program. The U.S. and Saudi militaries have exercised in the past, but U.S. commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan have cut the number, he said. The two countries now are looking for ways to exercise together to maintain interoperability.
The United States and the kingdom have a close relationship on such issues as the Middle East peace process and shared interests in the Persian Gulf. Security ties between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. continue to be important. The first U.S. military training mission here began in 1953. American servicemembers and contractors currently provide training and support in the use of weapons and other security-related services to the Saudi armed forces.
Still, Pace acknowledged that the United States and Saudi Arabia don't see eye to eye on every issue. As with any close ally, Pace said, there are "maybe 10 percent" of courses of action that an ally may want the United States to do that are not in U.S. national interests. The reverse is probably also true: 10 percent of options the United States wants an ally to do, they may deem are not in their interests.
"That leaves a large percentage of things that we can cooperate on," Pace said. "(This trip) is an effort to find ways to better cooperate."