Adel al-Jubeir

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Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia

Notable Quotes

"In an outlandish lie, Iran maligns and offends all Saudis by saying that my nation, home of the two holy mosques, brainwashes people to spread extremism. We are not the country designated a state sponsor of terrorism; Iran is. We are not the nation under international sanctions for supporting terrorism; Iran is. We are not the nation whose officials are on terrorism lists; Iran is."

“(I)f Iran should try to cause mischief in the region, we are committed to confront it resolutely. And so we’re looking at (the Iran nuclear) agreement and we will be studying it, and we are discussing it with our friends in the United States. But the bottom line is everybody wants a good deal, and so we expect that with time we will be exchanging ideas with our friends in the U.S. and with the other P5+1 countries, in order to get answers to some of the questions we may have.”

“We want to work more with the United States in Iraq to insure that we diminish the rule of the Shia militias, to bring in and empower the Sunnis in Iraq, and to keep Iraq united and independent from Iran.”


Personal and Political Background

You were born in 1962, and you did your undergraduate and graduate work in the United States, getting your master’s degree in international relations from Georgetown University in 1984. You were appointed to the Saudi diplomatic corps in 1987, and began serving as Special Assistant to the Saudi Ambassador to the United States. Over the course of the next decade you were involved in a variety of diplomatic tasks, and you gained valuable experience as you solidified your strong grasp on the English language, and on the ways of politics and diplomacy in Washington. Your experience and talent led to your being named as Director of the Saudi Information and Congressional Affairs Office at the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in 2000, but you only held that position for a few months before the King called you back to Saudi Arabia to serve as his Foreign Affairs advisor. In the wake of 9/11, however, you were sent back to the United States where you became the face of the Kingdom, making countless television appearances and speeches in which you represented the Saudi perspective. Of course, these appearances were a serious trial by fire, owing to the fact that several of the 9/11 terrorists were from Saudi Arabia, or had Saudi connections.

Having demonstrated your skill at representing the Saudi perspective in the American media spotlight, your star continued to rise, and in 2007 you were appointed by the King as the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, a position that you would hold for eight years. It was considered highly significant that you were the first person appointed to this position who was not a member of the royal family. You were regarded as a charismatic and effective diplomat, and your strong command of both English and German gave you a noteworthy advantage. You pressed that advantage by cultivating relationships with members of Congress, and with members of the media and political think tanks. You established a reputation as a low-key, but very able diplomat with a deft political touch, counterbalancing a reputation as something of a man about town. You even survived an assassination attempt, thought to have been executed by Iranian agents.

Your Appointment as Foreign Minister

Meanwhile, the passing of King Abdullah in January 2015 brought the ascension of King Salman, and Salman quickly made decisive steps towards putting his own people into key roles, and bringing about noteworthy generational change in the Saudi regime. He named Mohammed bin Nayef as Crown Prince, making him the first person not a son of Saudi Founder Ibn Saud to be formally added to the succession line, and chose his own son, Mohammad (a veritable infant in Saudi terms at age 29) to be Deputy Crown Prince. Finally, he chose you to replace his brother, Prince Saud, as Saudi Foreign Minister, making you only the second non-royal to hold this position. Your appointment was widely hailed as a masterstroke, allowing the Kingdom to leverage the strong relationship you have with American Secretary of State John Kerry, and putting into this highly visible position someone who is unusually comfortable in the western media spotlight.

Challenges and Context

You took the position at a time when Saudi Arabia faced many challenges. First on this list, of course, was the signing of a nuclear deal with Iran, a prospect that caused deep concern in Riyadh. You have taken the stance that Saudi Arabia will work with the P5+1 nations to make the best of the deal. Your statement on the question (on 7-23-15) shows your skill at parsing language in a most diplomatic fashion, making it clear that you have serious concerns about the agreement, but that you are also prepared to live with it. You said that Saudi Arabia “welcomes any agreement that would guarantee Iran's inability to obtain a nuclear weapon, and that contains an effective inspection mechanism, through which all sites would be inspected, including the military sites, as well as a mechanism to reinstate sanctions against Iran in the event that it violates such an agreement." Observers noted that you managed to endorse a potential agreement, even as you carefully avoided endorsing the actual one.

Saudi Arabia also faced a plethora of other issues as you took office, including a proxy war in Yemen that threatened to make concrete the Iranian-Saudi battle for regional power, and decisions about the extent to which Saudi Arabia would become directly involved in the war in Syria as opposed to simply extending military and financial support to various rebel groups. The Saudis, in response to urgent pleas from Washington, had refrained for some time from offering too much assistance to Islamist groups, but as things dragged on in Syria your government began to act more decisively to support groups like the Nusra Front (allied with Al-Qaeda) along with the more secular Free Syrian Army. This united front, known as the Conquest Army, has made significant inroads in Syria against government forces, and has gotten some traction against ISIS forces as well. In 2015, Turkish-Saudi cooperation also grew in Syria, and the Turks even overcame their reservations and started a limited deployment of Turkish air forces against ISIS.

Finally, in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal, Hamas leaders visited Riyadh amidst talk of renewed Saudi support for Hamas. Saudi Arabia had been a longtime (albeit low-key) supporter of Hamas, hoping that it could use the leverage created by its financial support to keep Hamas from becoming too extremist. This relationship took a turn for the worse starting in 2007, when the political agreement between the Palestinian Hamas and Fatah political factions crumbled, and Hamas essentially threw Fatah out of the Gaza Strip, much to the dismay of Fatah supporters like the Saudis. With this move, Iran jumped into the breach, offering Hamas military support, and for the next few years Iran took the Saudis’ place as primary benefactor of Hamas. However, in 2012 Hamas angered its Iranian friends by coming out in opposition to Bashir Assad’s government in Syria, a government that Iran has actively supported. Hamas was upset because of the harsh treatment by Assad’s forces of Sunnis in Syria, and that stance began a gradual souring of the Iran-Hamas relationship. Moving forward, you and your government saw an opportunity with the signing of the Iran nuclear deal to re-establish a robust strategic relationship with Hamas. This relationship will be something for you to manage carefully, as will your relationship with Israel, a nation that is strongly opposed to the Iran nuclear deal. Some say that in order to placate your government, the Americans may be willing to put some serious pressure on the Israelis to reach an accord with the Palestinians so as to enhance regional stability and to keep Saudi influence strong. A stronger Saudi-Hamas relationship also offers your government the possibility of helping to squelch the first glimmers of ISIS activity in Gaza.

Role-Playing Notes

You are a highly-skilled diplomat who works comfortably in Washington, and who understands how to work effectively in Western media. You have a reputation as a very hard worker, and as someone who worked effectively with American politicians from both political parties. As you take office, there are potent threats that worry you, but there are also some serious opportunities on the table. As you begin your tenure as foreign minister you have the chance to become a serious difference-maker in Saudi politics…the time has come to fully deploy your diplomatic skills.

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