Highlighting the long-standing relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia is one of the goals of the Council on American-Saudi Dialogue. Its President Les Janka takes periodic trips around the country to spread the positive word. He was in Southern California this week—Riverside and San Diego—to discuss U-S-Saudi ties with members of local world affairs councils. Questions from such groups have been hostile at times, but Janka senses a change. He says they’ve softened more recently.
“For the first year or so after 9/11 it was, what good can you possibly say of a country that sent fifteen of its people to kill us?”
Janka is a consultant to U-S companies that do business in the Middle East. His appearance expenses are paid for by the council that includes members who also worked and lived in the Arab nation. Janka says now more than ever, Saudi Arabia must keep up its profile in the U-S because its infrastructure may depend upon it.
“They’ve recently announced a program of 600-billion dollars to build new railroads, new power plants and they’ve come to the United States saying we prefer American companies."
There’s been an ongoing campaign since 9-11 by the Saudi government to distance the country from the terrorist hijackers and cultivate a more positive image in the eyes of the American public, the U-S government and businesses.
At one point, in contrast to Janka’s grassroots-like efforts, the campaign included television and radio ads. Many viewed those ads with skepticism. A Gallup poll released earlier this year showed Americans’ view of Saudi Arabia is still largely unfavorable, in part because of human rights abuses and issues with women’s rights.
Sacramento State University Communications Studies Professor David Zuckerman says despite the uphill PR battle it’s probably a good plan for Saudi Arabia to distinguish itself from other Middle Eastern nations.
“It’s a tough sell with the American public because the American public is pretty ignorant about which country is which in that part of the world and they see the physical features and they see the way people are dressed and they tend to lump everyone together.”
Janka says keeping the open discussion about Saudi Arabia has resulted in improvements. He points to a recent Saudi trade delegation trip to five American cities as proof. Representatives of the public relations firms say they’ll keep up the speaking engagements with more appearances through the summer and fall.