The rise of Adel Al-Jubeir

October 02, 2018
The rise of Adel Al-Jubeir
Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

There was a time when many wondered who could fill the place that late Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal occupied for half a century. It seemed, then, that it was impossible to find a top diplomat with his charisma, connections, experience and prestige.

Then, came Adel Ahmed Al-Jubeir, a relatively young, if not new, face from the Saudi Embassy in Washington. He was appointed foreign minister on 29 April 2015, replacing the legendary Al-Faisal, who resigned due to health issues.

Press conferences are the ultimate test of seasoned leaders and diplomats. They need to be fully aware, intelligent, logical, relaxed and confident. In New York, during last week’s world summit, I listened to Al-Jubeir’s impressive answers to difficult questions about thorny issues, including Iran, Qatar, Syria, Yemen and Canada. He sailed through rough waters smoothly and with elegance. His responses were eloquent, informative, logical and to the point.

Examples of his signature performance are many, but here is a sample. At the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, last week, Al-Jubeir was questioned about Saudi Arabia’s strong response to Canadian criticism of its human rights records and whether the problem might be resolved during a rumored meeting with the Canadian foreign minister. He declared that Saudi Arabia’s stance in the dispute remained the same, and that Canada also had not change its position. “We did not do this, you did. Fix it. You owe us an apology. Apologize, say you made a mistake,” he said. “In Canada we became a political football. Find another ball to play with, not Saudi Arabia.”

Al-Jubeir criticized Canada for making demands to immediately release Saudi citizens accused of national security crimes, adding that many countries like the US, UK and Germany have criticized Saudi Arabia over similar issues before, but have never made demands. “What are we? A banana republic? Would any country accept this?” he exclaimed.

“It is outrageous from our perspective that a country would sit there and lecture us, and make demands. ‘We demand the immediate release’.. Really? We demand the immediate independence of Quebec and the equal granting of rights to Canadian Indians,” he retorted.

Al-Jubeir’s rise was promising all along. Born in Riyadh Province in1962, he received his early education in the Kingdom. Later, as the son of a Saudi diplomat, he attended schools in Germany, Yemen, Lebanon and the US and has command of three languages - Arabic, English and German. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from the University of North Texas (1982), and a master’s degree in international relations from Georgetown University (1984). In 2006, he received an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from the University of North Texas.

Al-Jubeir served as Special Assistant to then Ambassador Prince Bandar Bin Sultan in 1987. It was in 1991 during the first Gulf War when he first appeared to the world as a spokesman for the Saudi government and as a part of the team that established the Joint Information Bureau at Dhahran, during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. After the war, he joined the Gulf Cooperation Council delegation to the Madrid Peace Conference in October 1991.

Later, Al-Jubeir became a member of the Saudi Arabian delegation to the United Nations General Assembly, and a visiting diplomatic fellow at New York’s Council on Foreign Relations, 1994-95.

During his tenure at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, the natural-born diplomat developed strong ties on Capitol Hill, in the US Administration, with the media and with major think tanks in Washington.

Following the 9/11 attacks, Al-Jubeir became the face of Saudi Arabia through hundreds of television appearances, as well as other media interviews. He visited more than 25 cities across the US, giving talks to World Affairs Councils, universities, civic organizations, business institutions and other interested groups, about current events and the state of Saudi-US relations.

He was instrumental in establishing and maintaining the US-Saudi Strategic Dialogue, which was initiated by King Abdullah and President Bush as a means to institutionalize relations between the two nations and deepen coordination on strategic, political and economic issues.

Al-Jubeir returned home in 2005, as an Advisor at the Royal Court, then back to Washington as Saudi Ambassador to the US in 2007.

Iran saw a formidable adversary in him, to the point of plotting his assassination in 2011. I would imagine that he is still on their hate list. This, in my opinion, is an acknowledgement of how diplomacy can be an effective tool feared by enemies and respected by all.

Adel Al-Jubeir’s rise is the result of long, hard and productive years of effort. It is a testament to the quality of the educational and training system of modern Saudi Arabia, as much as to the wisdom and effectiveness of its administration.

— Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at: Kbatarfi@gmail.com Follow him on Twitter: @kbatarfi

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