Without the strong economic and political ties that bind the U.S. and Saudi Arabia “the security of the world would be a lot shakier,” Ray Mabus, the former governor of Mississippi and current U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia,  said at a Middle Eastern business conference held in Atlanta, Thursday, April 13.

The conference, which was sponsored by leading U.S.-Saudi business organizations, drew some 200 people through the course of a day and the preceding evening at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta.

During a luncheon address, Mr. Mabus described the political and economies ties between the countries, adding that without the Saudi’s purchases of U.S. made F-15 fighter planes, Abrams tanks and Patriot missiles, their U.S. production lines would stop.  A quarter of a million jobs in the U.S. are directly related to the sale of goods and services to Saudi Arabia, he added.

He also elaborated on the common security interests that the two countries share, and described Saudi Arabia’s predominance as a supplier of oil to the world and the influence of its oil reserves in setting oil prices.

Despite these close ties, the two countries’ still have issues to resolve between them including the protection of intellectual property rights, he added.  He mentioned that he had been able to buy a pirated version of the movie ‘Speed’ for $4 in Riyadh a week after it had been released in the U.S.  “That’s impressive piracy,” he said, estimating that the U.S. lost some $1.4 billion in royalties because of these practices in Saudi Arabia.

In a humorous vein, he added that one of the ways he decides how successfully he is doing his job is by judging “how irritated my French colleague is on a given day.”

“He has not been so happy recently so I guess I have been pretty successful,” Mr. Mabus joked.

Amidst this banter, Mr. Mabus’ point was that the U.S. government’s support for developing business abroad is beginning to pay.  “The French government has always backed their country’s business interests,” he told Globalfax following his address.  “Now that we are doing the same thing, they are getting mad at us.”

Mr. Mabus praised the Clinton administration’s efforts to support U.S. businesses abroad and underlined his point by saying, “I want the playing field to be tilted in our favor.”

“My pay check is paid for in U.S. dollars,” he added, clarifying that it was not his job to say “You need to buy this.”  But if Saudi Arabia needs something then, he said, he was responsible for assisting U.S. companies to fill the orders.