Saudis Say No U.S. Pressure to Provide Facilities for War With Iraq

November 26, 2002 - 0:0
CAIRO -- Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said here Monday that the United States was not pressuring his country to provide military facilities in case of war with Iraq, AFP reported.

"There is no American pressure on Saudi Arabia in this field," Prince Saud told journalists when asked if the United States had asked Arab countries to cooperate in a possible war against Baghdad.

The prince made the remarks following a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, to whom he gave a message from the Saudi leadership about the "current situation".

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher and Jordanian Information Minister Mohamed Adwan last week denied media reports that Arab countries, including theirs, had received U.S. requests for cooperation in a possible war against Iraq.

On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department said around 50 countries had already been approached by Washington in a bid to build a coalition against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but did not name them.

The Saudi foreign minister said he hoped Iraqi cooperation with the inspectors, due to arrive Monday, "will lead to the application of UN resolutions and end the problem".

Egypt and other Arab states expressed hostility to U.S. threats to attack Iraq, which on November 13 accepted UN Security Council Resolution 1441 toughening the terms of inspections for alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Meanwhile, leading senators said Sunday that the FBI needs to investigate just how Saudi charitable donations may have reached Al-Qaeda militants involved in the September 11 attacks last year.

"I believe the FBI ought to relentlessly pursue no matter who the target is," Richard Shelby, of the Senate Intelligence Committee told NBC's "Meet the Press" show. "You have to follow the money."

Charitable donations from the Saudi royal family somehow ended up in the hands of suicide hijackers who flew jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, officials involved with the investigation told news organizations over the weekend, causing a furor in Washington.

Joseph Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the administration of George W.

Bush was being soft on the Saudis.

"The congressional committee says the FBI was not aggressive enough and the White House says immediately: 'Yes they were.'" "That's not enough," Lieberman said on CBS's "Face the Nation" program. "The president ought to be demanding a full public accounting from the FBI and the CIA about what they know about Saudi involvement."

Saudi officials confirmed that Princess Haifa bint Faisal, wife of Saudi Arabia Ambassador to Washington, Bandar bin Sultan, had written checks that were then signed over to friends and associates of two of the hijackers. "In the desire to help people, she helped someone and she gave them money," Saudi Foreign Policy Advisor Adel al-Jubeir said Sunday on "Face the Nation."

"This person turned out to be not the person she thought she was and this person endorsed checks over to someone else," he said.

The princess made monthly payments of around 3,500 dollars to the family of Saudi national Omar al-Bayoumi, a friend of two of the hijackers aboard American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon.

When Al-Bayoumi left the United States in mid-2001, funds from Bint Faisal then started flowing to Osama Bassman, a friend of the same two hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi.

Of the 19 hijackers aboard the four jetliners, 15 were Saudi citizens.

U.S. senators who are drafting a detailed report of security lapses leading up to the attacks said the money trail that begins at the princess's checkbook bears looking into.

"I think there's a lot of investigation yet to be done," said Senator Phil Graham, of the Joint Congressional Committee. "There are bank records to be reviewed. There are interviews to be conducted," he said Sunday on "Meet the Press."

"There are more questions than there are answers, in terms of what was the involvement of a foreign government in the events that led up to September 11," Graham said.

Shelby openly questioned whether Saudi Arabia was a dependable U.S. ally.

"I think our relationship with them is totally transactional," he said on meet the press. "They have a lot of oil."

Joseph Biden, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, doubted that the princess financed the hijackings intentionally, but may have done so unwittingly. "There's a long pattern of the Saudis' essentially buying off extremism in their country," he told CNN's "Late Edition."