By Faheem Al-Hamid
Jeddah — The reason US President Donald Trump has chosen Saudi Arabia as the first country to visit as president is because of the long-drawn ties between the two countries and in view of the Kingdom’s regional and global stature, according to US Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly.
The US president is visiting the Kingdom “to pay his respects to the Islamic world and then to Saudi Arabia as the heart of that, and as the anchor for the region,” he told Okaz/Saudi Gazette in an exclusive interview during his recent visit to Jeddah.
“The relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States has been strong for decades. The president sees Saudi Arabia as the key country for stability in this part of the world,” he said.
“President Trump sees the relationship between the United States and the Arab world in general and in particular Saudi Arabia is based on mutual respect and mutual objectives in the region. The best outcome would be that everybody gets along. It’s important that countries like the United States, Saudi Arabia, and well-meaning countries stay together as brothers and sisters whether it’s the fight against ISIS (Daesh) or conventional forces,” Kelly said.
As an official responsible for the US borders and customs, Kelly visited the Kingdom to “strengthen the relationship in terms of customs and immigration and related issues.”
“I will say this again. Saudi Arabia’s intelligence is very good, very stable. It has very good police, passports, and very responsible. I mean it’s everything good Saudi Arabia does.”
Reiterating the importance the present US administration attaches to Saudi Arabia, Kelly said that in 110 days Trump has talked to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques “two or three times.” He met Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, second deputy premier and minister of defense.
He said that Trump’s views on Muslims have been misrepresented.
“I interact with the president a lot and I’ve only heard him say positive things about the Muslims, about the Arab world. Nothing but positive things. When I’ve talked to him about this side of the world relative to the decisions I’ve had to make about additional vetting putting a travel pause. He was concerned about what that might look like. He was as convinced as I am. It was not about Muslims. It was not about countries that are in crisis.”
Kelly, however, said that “there are countries in this side of the world that don’t enjoy the same type of stability that your country does.
“Those countries we will deal with in other ways in special ways. With Saudi Arabia it’s a friend. It’s stable. It’s under the control of the King. It’s a good thing.”
Commenting on Iran and its interference in the internal affairs of other countries, Kelly said Iran should live up to international agreements and laws.
“If they don’t do that; they suffer sanctions, economic sanctions, travel sanctions. We are all hoping they live up to the responsibilities under international law and the agreements they’ve signed with the big power.”
Kelly described the situation in Syria as “awful.”
“Hundreds and thousands of people have been killed. The regime has murdered by gas and by explosives tens of thousands of their own people. I pray for the people of Syria.”
Commenting on Houthi rebels in Yemen, Kelly said, “I believe in order to change people’s behavior like Iran like Houthis will apply different elements of international power, instruments of power whether economic or social. Military power is useful in many circumstances and some circumstances it’s not. But I think this particular president will partner with nations all around the globe to solve local problems. In this case, Saudi Arabia and other middle eastern countries to deal with the terrible problems in Yemen.”
Talking about easing travel procedures for Saudis to the US, the secretary of homeland security said, “Trust traveler is an important step. The next step we would be going down this road already. In terms of travel and visas, it couldn’t be better. Saudi Arabia sets the standard in many ways.
“It’s pretty fast now I think. 100,000 students that are from Saudi Arabia that travel to the United States to study in our universities, we love that. Their great representatives of your country. Its very easy to do.”
“America is a very open country. Every year we welcome over 1 million legal immigrants that come and live in the United States. We welcome millions, millions and millions of visitors from overseas. If those individuals come to the United States behave themselves live accordance to our laws there’s no problem. If they come to the States illegally or they have visas and stay longer than the visa allows than that’s a different issue they are breaking the laws. We have to encourage them to go back home. For the most part, America remains a very welcoming country to legal immigrants and visitors,” Kelly said.