Political Profiles – Adel Al-Jubeir: the Diplomat Who Links Saudi Arabia to the West

Mengtao Zhao is in his second year studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics. He was invited to visit Saudi Arabia in September 2019, where he met with HRH Prince Turki Al-Faisal, HH Prince Abdullah Al-Saud, and leaders of industries. He also has extensive internship experiences in private, public, legal, and academic sectors. Mengtao is a staff writer at IR Today and an editor at KCL Dialogue magazine. 

Education and Career
Al-Jubeir was educated in Germany, Yemen, Lebanon, and the United States. He graduated from the University of North Texas with a B.A. summa cum laude in political science and economics and pursued his master’s degree in international relations at Georgetown University, the alma mater of his predecessor as the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki Al-Faisal. After his graduation in 1984, he joined the Saudi Diplomatic Service and was posted to the Saudi embassy in Washington, DC, where he spent most of his diplomatic career. In 2000, Al-Jubeir was appointed Director of the Saudi Information and Congressional Affairs Office in Washington and was named Foreign Affairs Advisor tothe Crown Prince’s Court. In August 2005, the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz appointed Al-Jubeir to the position of Advisor to the Royal Court. Two years later, he became the Saudi ambassador to the United States where he served until he returned to Riyadh as Foreign Minister in 2015. In late 2019, in a cabinet reshuffle, he was appointed the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs within the same ministry.

Saudi-US Relations
Al-Jubeir has been a committed defender and promoter of Saudi-US relations throughout his diplomatic career. During his time in Washington, he developed extensive networks with American political elites, media celebrities, and business leaders, hosted extravagant parties, and frequently appeared on Sunday talk shows. Former Jordanian ambassador to the United States Marwan al-Muasher once said, “On Capitol Hill, Adel was the Saudi liberal face to the Western world, and he was very effective with it.” His knowledge of US politics and popularity among the American upper class made him an invaluable asset to the then Crown Prince Abdullah, who later became the King of Saudi Arabia, as his point person in Washington and critical adviser on foreign affairs.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, investigations revealed that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals, including Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the plot. Other incriminating information about the Kingdom was quickly exposed, uncovering that Saudi schools and mosques were teaching and preaching religious intolerance against non-Muslims, which led to severe distrust of the Kingdom by the US public and political establishment. Saudi-US tensions peaked when Saudi Arabia officially admitted that “money from a princess and the wife of the Saudi ambassador might have been diverted to two of the 9/11 hijackers.” Al-Jubeir, “in handmade Western suits, took to the airwaves to assure American television viewers that the princess had been the victim of a terrible scam.” Anyone who had listened to his speech would be impressed by his flawless English and soft yet assertive voice, which helped the Kingdom successfully mitigate the damage and political backlash.

In 2007, King Abdullah appointed Al-Jubeir to replace Prince Turki Al-Faisal to be the Saudi ambassador to the United States. During his tenure as ambassador, Al-Jubeir improved economic and political cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the United States, as well as facilitated the creation of academic and scientific programs. He strengthened the embassy’s ties with the US Congress through “extensive meetings and briefings with the members of Congress … and [facilitated] their visits to the Kingdom.” Besides his diplomatic mission in the United States, he also frequently accompanied the late King Abdullah during his state visits to other parts of the world.

As Foreign Minister, the second person outside the House of Saud to hold this position, and subsequently the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Al-Jubeir relentlessly emphasized the importance of US-Saudi strategic relations and cooperation on various occasions in order to deal with Iran, Yemen, and regional terrorist groups.

Saudi-Iran Relations
In contrast with his friendly attitude towards the US, Al-Jubeir condemned Iran for violating the United Nations resolution on nuclear weapons, subsidizing terrorist organizations, assassinating diplomats (including one alleged plot to assassinate Al-Jubeir in 2011), and selling ballistic missiles to the Houthis in their conflict against Saudi Arabia. In 2017, Al-Jubeir called for sanctions on Iran for its support of terrorism and violating the ballistic missile resolutions of the United Nations after Iran allegedly launched a ballistic missile attack on Saudi. In his conversation with Richard Haass at the Council on Foreign Relations in September 2019, two weeks after Aramco oil facilities were attacked, Al-Jubeir blamed Iran for providing weapons to the Houthis, which were then launched against Saudi Arabia. He called for international condemnation but also reiterated Saudi’s viable diplomatic, economic, and military options, that Saudi Arabia would pursue to fight back. His hard-line approach towards Iran reflects the severe tensions between the two countries.

Saudi Arabia and the Rest of the World
Al-Jubeir especially emphasised Saudi’s relations with China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and other countries. During his meeting with Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Al-Jubeir stressedChina’s position as Saudi Arabia’s important strategic partner and expressed Saudi’s willingness to participate in the Belt and Road Initiative to strengthen the economic, cultural, and political ties between the two countries. He also encouraged more Chinese enterprises to invest in Saudi Arabia. In regards toRussia, Al-Jubeir appealed to the shared common ground on energy and oil affairs between Saudi Arabia and Russia before President Vladimir Putin’s state visit to the Kingdom in 2019.

End
Al-Jubeir continues to appear at Chatham House, the Council on Foreign Relations, Davos, and other international stages. Besides his expertise in international relations, he is also a leading authority on Saudi’sVision 2030 project and human rights conditions in Saudi Arabia, which is often subject to criticism.

References:

Buller, Alicia. “’Whatever Happens with Brexit, We Back Britain,’ Says Saudi Arabia’s Al-Jubeir.” ArabianBusiness.com, ArabianBusiness.com, 22 Oct. 2019, www.arabianbusiness.com/politics-economics/431148-whatever-happens-with-brexit-we-back-britain-says-saudi-arabias-al-jubeir.

“China Sees Saudi Arabia as Important Partner in Belt and Road Construction: Chinese FM.” Edited by ZD , Xinhua, 5AD, www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-05/22/c_137197787.htm.

Council on Foreign Relations. “A Conversation with Minister Adel Al-Jubeir of Saudi Arabia.” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations, 24 Sept. 2019, www.cfr.org/event/conversation-minister-adel-al-jubeir-saudi-arabia-0.

Cooper, Helene. “Wild Days Behind Him, Envoy Keeps Low Profile.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 15 Oct. 2011, www.nytimes.com/2011/10/15/world/middleeast/wild-days-behind-him-saudi-envoy-jubeir-keeps-low-profile.html.

Friedman, Thomas L. “War of Ideas.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 June 2002, www.nytimes.com/2002/06/02/opinion/war-of-ideas.html.

“Jubeir: Saudi Arabia, Russia Are Eager to Bolster Their Relations.” Awsat, 14 Oct. 2019, aawsat.com/english/home/article/1944796/jubeir-saudi-arabia-russia-are-eager-bolster-their-relations.

Meredith, Sam, and Hadley Gamble. “Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Calls for Sanctions on Iran for Its ‘Support of Terrorism’.” CNBC, CNBC, 9 Nov. 2017, www.cnbc.com/2017/11/09/saudi-arabia-foreign-minister-calls-for-sanctions-on-iran-for-its-support-of-terrorism.html.

Saudi Embassy in the US. “Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel Bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir | The Embassy of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, www.saudiembassy.net/minister-foreign-affairs-adel-bin-ahmed-al-jubeir.

 

Image credits:
https://www.france24.com/en/20170730-saudi-arabia-egypt-bahrain-united-arab-emirates-dialogue-qatar

 

 

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