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SLUG: 6-12477 Saudi's Stance
DATE:
NOTE NUMBER:

DATE=09/26/01

TYPE=OPINION ROUNDUP

TITLE=SAUDI'S STANCE

NUMBER=6-12477

BYLINE=ANDREW GUTHRIE

DATELINE=WASHINGTON

EDITOR=ASSIGNMENTS

TELEPHONE=619-3335

CONTENT=

///ED: DUE TO THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SAUDI ACTION, WE ARE OFFERING THIS OPINION ROUNDUP WHICH CONTAINS **B O T H** DOMESTIC AND INTERNATIONAL COMMENT.///

INTRO: As the United States builds a global coalition to join the war against terrorism, no nation, save Pakistan, is in a more delicate position than Saudi Arabia.

Tuesday, the Saudi government severed all ties to the Taleban, the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Afghanistan, and said it supports the American cause. The decision has prompted immediate reaction in both the U-S and foreign press, and we get a sampling now from V-O-A's ___________ in this special Opinion Roundup.

TEXT: Saudi Arabia is inextricably connected to the current situation in several ways. The man believed the mastermind of the terror attacks, Osama bin Laden, is a Saudi citizen, although he is in exile in Afghanistan. He says one of his goals is overthrowing the Saudi royal family which he has called "corrupt." Moreover, many of the hijackers who flew planes into buildings in the attacks apparently are Saudi citizens. Several of them come from rural areas where fundamentalist Islam is strong, and resistance to the Saudi Royal family exists.

Saudi Arabia occupies a special place in the Islamic world as guardian of the religion's two holiest sites, the cities of Mecca which holds the holiest mosque and the sacred Kaaba shrine, and Medina, where the prophet Mohammed is buried. The Saudis are loath to incur the wrath of Muslim governments anywhere if it can be avoided.

However since the U-S Embassy bombings in Africa in 1998, which were believed linked to the bin Laden organization, the Saudi government has been downgrading relations with the Taleban, and cutting off financial aid to them. Tuesday's action, making the break total and official, is drawing speedy reaction from U-S papers such as the Chicago Tribune, which says in part:

VOICE: The move could hardly be more significant for president Bush and the U-S campaign to build an international coalition of nations to fight a war against terrorist networks. Oil-rich Saudi Arabia, one of the most influential Muslim states in the world, has further isolated the ruling Taleban regime ... Pakistan is now the only nation that officially recognizes Afghanistan's Islamic leadership, and Pakistan is assisting the U-S coalition. The United Arab Emirates, the third nation to recognize the Taleban, broke relations with Kabul three days ago. The Saudis have refuted the Taliban's claim to leadership in Islamic society.

/// OPT ///The Saudi government, though it didn't name Osama bin Laden, accused the Taliban of using its land to harbor, arm and encourage terrorists who slaughter the innocent and "spread terror and destruction in the world."

/// END OPT ///

...the Saudi break with Afghanistan still carries both symbolic and geopolitical importance. The Saudis in the past have been a U-S ally, but have also balked at cooperating in the investigation of terrorist activities in the region that targeted the U-S. ...Tuesday's move comes at some risk. ... The Saudis ...are vulnerable because they have allowed the stationing of U-S troops on Saudi soil -- the land of holy Mecca and Medina -- since the ... Gulf War.

/// OPT ///

This is also the main premise of [Mr.] bin Laden's holy war against the U-S -- that the government in Riyadh is a corrupt pawn of the West.

Let him rant.

/// END OPT ///

TEXT: The Kansas City [Missouri] Star is also pleased at the Saudi move, but reminding readers of U-S troop sacrifices during the Gulf War, wants Riyadh to do even more.

VOICE: During the Persian Gulf War ten years ago, U-S soldiers risked their lives to help save Saudi Arabia from being conquered by Iraq. Today, America needs that debt repaid. To do that, Saudi Arabia should allow American planes to use Saudi air bases to strike against suspected terrorists in the region.

/// OPT ///

Saudi leaders have been hesitant to do so. They reportedly are concerned that such close cooperation with the United States could anger Arabs and Muslims in other countries.

Saudi Arabia ... has a well-earned reputation for trying to accommodate and appease as many countries and organizations as possible in the Middle East, even those who are obviously destructive.

/// END OPT ///

On Tuesday [9-25], Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic relations with the Taleban regime in Afghanistan, which has provided [Mr.] bin Laden with a haven for the last five years. This was a helpful step, but more should be expected of the Saudis. They ought to cooperate fully with the United States and its other allies in the war against terrorism -- a war that will benefit Saudi Arabia as well.

TEXT: The New York Times also hails the move as courageous, adding:

VOICE: As President Bush assembles and tries to hold together a coalition of disparate nations, he will have to be mindful of Saudi sensibilities -- not only because of traditional Saudi anxieties about aligning itself too closely with the West, but because the kingdom has an unusual role in this conflict. Osama bin Laden comes from a prominent Saudi business family. A principal aim of his worldwide campaign of terror is to evict American troops from Saudi soil and end Washington's decades-long commitment to the defense of Saudi Arabia and its royal family.

Washington should not hold back [however] in seeking Saudi assistance in dismantling the bin Laden terror network. ... The Saudi royal family must put its considerable strengths to work in the American-led campaign.

///OPT ///

... they must rise to the challenge of navigating the kingdom's participation in a fight against terrorists who murder Americans in the name of a twisted interpretation of Islamic purity. ... Riyadh should give Washington the permission it seeks to use air bases on Saudi territory to launch and direct whatever military actions may be needed to destroy terrorist bases and training camps in Afghanistan.

///END OPT ///

TEXT: Turning to London, England, where the international Arabic press is increasingly located, we read in the Saudi Arabian daily Asharq Al-Awsat:

VOICE: The decision by Saudi Arabia to cut its diplomatic ties with the Taleban closed the circle of isolation... The isolation of the Taleban is a clear message from the entire world that they do not have the right to be the spokesman for all of the Islamic world...But the isolation of the Taleban does not mean that all Muslims in Afghanistan should also be isolated. In reality, they have become the first victims of the Taleban.

TEXT: And now, to Saudi Arabia, proper, where in Jeddah, the moderate daily Al-Bilad comments:

VOICE: Everybody, including the United States, agrees that the Afghan people are experiencing a real human disaster, but the question in the shadow of the current developments is: who is behind this disaster? ... The answer is quite clear, and the fingers point at the government of the Taleban, which created confusion and failed to consider the suffering of the Afghan people... The Taleban bears the full responsibility and must realize that Afghanistan has become a center for attracting and training terrorists...

TEXT: The Italian daily press is also being heard from, and in Rome, this appears in Wednesday's [9-26] Il Messaggero.

VOICE: [Mr.] bin Laden wants to obtain, on the wave of emotion for the recent attacks, what he has been unable to obtain with peaceful methods.. [Mr.] bin Laden is a defeated man who counts on the mistakes of his enemy... The country that considers itself the beacon of the purest Islam -- Saudi Arabia -- yesterday took an unequivocal position by disassociating itself from Afghanistan and its unsavory guests. This is an important signal, indeed, and Muslims all over the world will have to take it into account.

TEXT: However we close with this warning from the big, Spanish daily El Pais, published in Madrid, which echoes some of the concerns we heard a moment ago in The New York Times.

VOICE: Washington must not force Saudi Arabia to blindly line up with its targets without taking the risk that the measures adopted will discredit the regime and undermine a society marked by fundamentalism, which is much more fragile than is perceived from the outside. Unless [President] Bush is ready to take the risk of losing the support of an important part of the moderate Muslim universe, the U-S response should be a wise, prudent mixture of military and diplomatic tools.

TEXT: On that note of caution, from one of Spain's largest dailies, El Pais, we conclude this special Opinion Roundup of early reaction to the severing of diplomatic ties this week, between Saudi Arabia and the Taleban regime in Afghanistan.

NEB/ANG/RH



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