U.S.-Saudi bonds weakened, lawsuit pending
By By Joe Baker, Senior Editor
British diplomatic sources say official relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have deteriorated so badly that the Saudis are no longer considered allies, according to The Times of London.
The Times reported the Saudis refuse to back President Bushs plans to attack Iraq or to support the War on Terror. The newspaper said its sources tell it that the Saudis have given the Bush administration no intelligence of value about al-Qaeda, which has its roots in Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden is a Saudi.
However, Saudi Arabia did recently arrest alleged al-Qaeda members extradited from Iran.
According to The Times, the proverbial straw was when the Saudis banned the use of their air bases by U.S. bombers. That, the newspaper said, soured things to the point that the Saudis are not included in discussions of a post-Saddam Iraq.
Syria, it is said, is holding secret talks with the U.S. and the British about what role Damascus may play if Saddam Hussein is ousted. Publicly, Syria is opposed to the Iraqi attack plans. A Syrian delegation reportedly met with British officials in London last week.
Diplomatic sources said the Saudi royal house is embroiled in an internal fight and is so concerned about survival that key figures are very wary of making any decisions that might be seen as pro-Western and anti-Arab. Few official statements are being made.
King Fahd is 79 and said to be in worsening health. Speculation about his successor is rife. He recently had eye surgery in Geneva, Switzerland.
The Iraq campaign is being planned by Gen. Tommy Franks, who also is the top commander in Afghanistan. He intends to use the al-Udeid air base in Qatar as the primary launching point for such an attack. Work there is far advanced. It apparently will replace the function previously served by the sprawling Prince Sultan air base some 50 miles south of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.
The Times quoted one unidentified official as saying: There may be no political decision yet, but militarily the U.S. 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 Saudi hierarchy was stunned and surprised by the Sept. 11 attacks on America, carried out by 19 hijackers. Its believed 15 of the hijackers were Saudis. The Saudis also have been very involved with Pakistan in financing the Taliban in Afghanistan.
About the only positive note in the dreary dealings with the U.S. is that Saudi Arabia supplies 17 percent of Americas oil needs.
Sources said: 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 Times said Britains relations with the Saudis have been complicated by the detention of five Britons who were found guilty of launching a bombing campaign in a bootlegging war.
On this side of the Atlantic, 600 family members of Sept. 11 victims have filed a trillion-dollar federal lawsuit against Saudi officials, banks and charities.
The lawsuit charges they financed Osama bin Ladins terrorist activities. The 258-page complaint accuses the defendants of racketeering, wrongful deaths, negligence and conspiracy.
The complaint names more than seven dozen defendants, including the government of Sudan, several Islamic foundations and three Saudi princes.
The suit bluntly blames the Saudis for the attacks. That kingdom sponsors terrorism, said Ron Motley, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. This is an insidious group of people, he said.