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SAUDI ARABIA - Aug. 6 - Pentagon Briefing Depicts Saudis As Enemies.

A Washington Post article by Thomas Ricks reports a July 10 briefing to the Defense Policy Board, a group of prominent intellectuals and former senior officials that advises the Pentagon on defense policy, which described Saudi Arabia as an enemy of the US and recommended that US officials give Riyadh an ultimatum to stop backing terrorism or face seizure of its oilfields and its financial assets invested in the US. The briefing, prepared by Laurent Murawiec, said: "The Saudis are active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot-soldier, from ideologist to cheerleader... Saudi Arabia supports our enemies and attacks our allies". A talking point attached to the last of 24 briefing slides described Saudi Arabia as "the kernel of evil, the prime mover, the most dangerous opponent" in the Middle East. (Murawiec, a former adviser to the French Ministry of Defence, now analyses international security affairs for the Rand think tank).

Ricks says the briefing did not represent the views of the board or official US government policy, "and in fact runs counter to the present stance of the US government that Saudi Arabia is a major ally in the region. Yet it also represents a point of view that has growing currency within the Bush administration - especially on the staff of Vice President Cheney and in the Pentagon's civilian leadership - and among neoconservative writers and thinkers closely allied with administration policymakers". Ricks quotes a US administration official as saying opinion about Saudi Arabia is changing rapidly within the US government. "People used to rationalize Saudi behavior", he said. "You don't hear that anymore. There's no doubt that people are recognizing reality and recognizing that Saudi Arabia is a problem". Ricks adds that the decision "to bring the anti-Saudi analysis before the Defense Policy Board also appears tied to the growing debate over whether to launch a US military attack to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq". (The chairman of the board is former Pentagon official Richard N. Perle, one of the most prominent advocates in Washington of such an invasion). The briefing argued that removing Saddam would spur change in Saudi Arabia - "which, it maintained, is the larger problem because of its role in financing and supporting radical Islamic movements".

Ricks quotes Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke as saying in a written statement issued on Aug. 5: "Neither the presentations nor the Defense Policy Board members' comments reflect the official views of the Department of Defense. Saudi Arabia is a long-standing friend and ally of the United States. The Saudis cooperate fully in the global war on terrorism and have the Department's and the Administration's deep appreciation".

Murawiec said in his briefing the US should demand that Riyadh stop funding fundamentalist Islamic outlets around the world, stop all anti-US and anti-Israeli statements in the country, and "prosecute or isolate those involved in the terror chain, including in the Saudi intelligence services. If the Saudis refused to comply, Saudi oil fields and overseas financial assets should be targeted". He concluded by linking regime change in Iraq to altering Saudi behaviour. Ricks noted; "This view, popular among some neoconservative thinkers, is that once a US invasion has removed (Saddam) Hussein from power, a friendly successor regime would become a major exporter of oil to the West. That oil would diminish US dependence on Saudi energy exports, and so - in this view - permit the US government finally to confront the House of Saud for supporting terrorism". Ricks quotes the administration official as adding: "The road to the entire Middle East goes through Baghdad. Once you have a democratic regime in Iraq, like the ones we helped establish in Germany and Japan after World War II, there are a lot of possibilities".

Ricks says of "the two dozen people who attended the Defense Policy Board meeting, only one, former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger, spoke up to object to the anti-Saudi conclusions of the briefing... Some members of the board clearly agreed with Kissinger's dismissal of the briefing and others did not. One source summarized Kissinger's remarks as, 'The Saudis are pro-American, they have to operate in a difficult region, and ultimately we can manage them... I don't consider Saudi Arabia to be a strategic adversary of the United States. They are doing some things I don't approve of, but I don't consider them a strategic adversary'". Other members of the board include former vice president Dan Quayle; former defense secretaries James Schlesinger and Harold Brown; former House speakers Newt Gingrich and Thomas Foley; and several retired senior military officers, including two former vice chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired admirals David Jeremiah and William Owens).

Asked for reaction, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the US, said he did not take the briefing seriously, adding: "I think that it is a misguided effort that is shallow, and not honest about the facts. Repeating lies will never make them facts". Adel Al-Jubeir, a foreign policy adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah Ibn Abdel Aziz, said: "I think this view defies reality. The two countries have been friends and allies for over 60 years. Their relationship has seen the coming and breaking of many storms in the region, and if anything it goes from strength to strength".

Ricks says the anti-Saudi views expressed in the briefing "appear especially popular among neoconservative foreign policy thinkers, which is a relatively small but influential group within the Bush administration". He quotes Kenneth Adelman (a former aide to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who is a member of the Defense Policy Board but did not attend the July 10 meeting) as saying: "I think it is a mistake to consider Saudi Arabia a friendly country". He said the view that Saudi Arabia is an adversary of the US "is certainly a more prevalent view that it was a year ago."

In recent weeks, two neoconservative magazines have run articles similar in tone to the Pentagon briefing. The July 15 issue of the Weekly Standard, which is edited by William Kristol, a former chief of staff to Quayle, predicted "The Coming Saudi Showdown". The current issue of Commentary, published by the American Jewish Committee, contains an article titled, "Our Enemies, the Saudis". Ricks quotes Eliot Cohen, a Johns Hopkins University expert on military strategy, as saying: "More and more people are making parts of this argument, and a few all of it. Saudi Arabia used to have lots of apologists in this country... Now there are very few, and most of those with substantial economic interests or long-standing ties there". Ricks adds that Cohen, a member of the Defense Policy Board, declined to discuss its deliberations. "But he did say that he views Saudi Arabia more as a problem than an enemy". He quotes him as adding: "The deal that they cut with fundamentalism is most definitely a threat, [so] I would say that Saudi Arabia is a huge problem for us". Ricks also quotes Robert Oakley, a former US ambassador to Pakistan who consults frequently with the US military, as saying: "The drums are beginning to beat on Saudi Arabia". He said the best approach is not to confront Saudi Arabia but to support its reform efforts. "Our best hope is change through reform, and that can only come from within".

Rumsfeld Reaction: US State Secretary Powell telephoned FM Prince Saud Al Faisal to reassure him that Pres. Bush did not view Riyadh as an enemy. But Rumsfeld, while saying the July 10 briefing did not reflect official US policy, said 15 of the 19 hijackers involved in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US were Saudi.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 10, 2002
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