Saudi Arabia Gives US
The Cold Shoulder
By Michael Evans
Defence Editor
The Times - Lodon

Relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia have deteriorated so far that the Saudi Arabians are no longer considered allies, senior diplomatic sources said yesterday.
Saudi Arabia, once the indispensable cornerstone of US policy in the Arab world, has refused to co-operate with the war on terrorism or support President Bush's plans to overthrow President Saddam Hussein. According to the sources, it has handed over no Intelligence of any value about the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation, which has roots in Saudi Arabia.
The final "stab in the back" for Washington was the decision to ban American bombers from attacking Iraq from Saudi airbases. That has soured relations to such an extent that the country from which America launched its 1991 invasion of Iraq is now being excluded from discussions about a post-Saddam era.
Even Syria, which in public is opposed to an attack on Iraq and has been engaged in trade and arms deals with Baghdad, is talking secretly to the Americans and the British about the role that Damascus may play in the region if Saddam is overthrown. A Syrian delegation is understood to have had discussions with British officials in London this week.
British diplomatic sources said that the Saudi ruling elite was immersed in a "dynastic battle" and was so concerned about survival that the key figures were afraid of taking any decision that would be interpreted by the people as being pro-Western and anti-Arab. It had become increasingly difficult to find anyone with sufficient clout and influence in Riyadh "to talk about anything".
King Fahd, 79, is said by Gulf-based diplomats to be suffering increasing ill health, giving rise to speculation about his successor. He left Geneva for his holiday home in Spain yesterday after undergoing eye surgery.
General Tommy Franks, the US Central Command chief who is planning the campaign against Iraq, is understood to have removed from his list of potential launch pads the huge Prince Sultan airbase, 50 miles south of Riyadh, which the allies used as their combined air operations centre in the Gulf War. Development work at General Franks's alternative "war base" - the al-Udeid site in Qatar - was now so far advanced that it would soon be a "totally self-sufficient" American facility, the sources said.
"There may be no political decision yet, but militarily the US has made enough preparations to attack Iraq any time, without using any facilities in Saudi Arabia, other than Saudi airspace. It is assumed that the Saudis would not go as far as denying over-flight rights," the sources said.
Saudi Arabia's failure to reveal any useful Intelligence about al-Qaeda has been in marked contrast to the co- operation of countries such as Yemen.
Despite arresting 13 al-Qaeda suspects several months ago, the Saudi authorities have not divulged to the Americans any material that could help Western intelligence agencies to unravel the network, the sources said.
Sixteen Saudi al-Qaeda suspects detained by Iran after crossing from Afghanistan had also been handed over to Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has promised that any Intelligence gleaned from the suspects would be passed to the US.
However, the sources said: "All the Saudis are interested in is getting information from suspect al-Qaeda terrorists which relates only to Saudi Arabia's security. They have not been at all co-operative in seeking answers from suspects which might have some bearing on the international threat posed by al-Qaeda."
The hierarchy in Saudi Arabia had been "taken by surprise" by the September 11 attacks in America, carried out by 19 hijackers of whom 15 were believed to have been Saudi citizens. Many of the al-Qaeda suspects arrested in Afghanistan and taken to the American interrogation camp at Guantanamo Bay were also Saudis.
Saudi Arabia had also been "deeply involved" with Pakistan in funding the Taleban in Afghanistan, and had financed the "Salafi" Islamic ideological schools in Pakistan at which many Taleban and al-Qaeda fundamentalists had developed their hatred of the West.
Relations with Saudi Arabia were now so poor that there was at present only one issue that could be seen in a positive light, and that was oil. The Saudis supply 17 per cent of America's oil needs.
"In all other key areas, the Saudis are not being obliging, so in planning for Iraq the Americans have turned to Gulf states they see as real allies, such as Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain," the sources said. Britain's relations with Saudi Arabia have been complicated by the detention of five Britons, found guilty of mounting a bombing campaign in a bootlegging war. The British prisoners allege that they were tortured to make false confessions.
Two emissaries have been sent this year to Riyadh to raise the case with the Saudis. However, the Saudis have shown little interest in discussing what is seen in the Foreign Office as a case of trumped-up charges.


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