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Envoy says Saudis stand united with U.S.



WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Saudi Arabia stands "as one" with the United States in its war against terrorism, but has not been asked to allow U.S. forces to use bases on its soil, the Saudi ambassador to the United States said Sunday.

"Our American friends stood with us in 1990-'91 [during the Gulf War], and we are standing firm with them today in this fight," said Prince Bandar bin Sultan on ABC's "This Week."

"We are united. We are going after the same enemy, which is the terrorists and whoever harbors or supports them."

Responding to reports that U.S. officials were rebuffed when they asked for permission to use the Prince Sultan air base, the ambassador said no such request was made. He said the Saudis have cooperated with all requests the United States has made.

"People are trying to find an argument, and we don't have an argument," he said, noting that support for the United States includes political, financial and intelligence efforts, not just military support.

Prince Bandar's comments echo those of Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said the Saudis have done everything asked of them by the United States.

Asked if the Saudis would stand with the United States if it tried to dislodge the Islamic Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Prince Bandar said, "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it."

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But he noted that his government -- one of only three to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan -- has broken off diplomatic relations with the regime. The United Arab Emirates also broke off ties and Pakistan is the only country that still recognizes the Taliban.

"Anyone who harbors terrorism or terrorists and does not cooperate with the international community should have to pay a price," Prince Bandar said.

He also said that although a U.S. push to cut off the finances of terrorist networks "is an excellent idea, and we'll support it," U.S. banking and financial disclosure laws impede the ability to do so.

U.S. officials believe that Saudi Arabia is an important transit point for money going to Osama bin Laden, leader of al Qaeda terrorist network and suspected mastermind of the September 11 attacks.

Bin Laden is a member of a prominent Saudi family, and authorities believe that some of the suicide hijackers involved in this month's attacks had Saudi ties. Bin Laden has been stripped of his Saudi citizenship.

"Most of the money that goes out ... in these areas, through charities and so on, comes through the United States of America," Prince Bandar said. "We can trace it all the way to Europe. When it comes here, your laws do not allow anybody to investigate."

Prince Bandar praised the Bush administration for moving last week to secure the assets of several entities operating in the United States that have been linked to terror groups, and a new U.N. resolution mandating international cooperation in financial areas.

But, he said, more needs to be done.

"Next week we're having some senior officials from our finance ministry come and discuss with their counterpart how to cooperate on this area," he said.

The Saudi diplomat, an influential member of the kingdom's royal family, said he met bin Laden in the 1980s, under circumstances he said might now be considered surprising.

"When I met him, it was early -- in the mid-'80s, I guess. Actually, this is irony. He came to thank me for getting the United States of America to help our Mujahedeen brothers in Afghanistan ... against the Soviets.

"I was not impressed by him at that time," Bandar said. "And I think he freaked out. I think he is a loose cannon now, and I think he does not represent Islam or what Islam teaches. So he's a pariah now, and anyone who supports him is a pariah."

In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's minister of the interior held a press conference and offered similar comments of support for the United States, saying his country had long opposed terrorism.

Asked about the Saudi ties of some of the hijacking suspects in the September 11 attacks, Prince Nayef bin Abdelaziz said Saudi Arabia had not received any evidence that any of its citizens were involved.

Even it that turned out to be true, he said, any such involvement is not reflective of the Saudi people.

"If there are Saudis who have sullied the name of Islam by being involved in this, we would like to have the proof," he said. "They will be held responsible for their actions regardless of where they come from.

Prince Nayef said that while the Saudi government condemns and denounces terrorism, "we also need to differentiate between acts of terrorism, such as what happened in the United States, and acts of struggle to liberate a land, which is the case of the Palestinian uprising."

He said the United States and European countries "have not done enough to reach a fair and just solution for the Palestinians."

"We have to look at the root of terror. Terrorism doesn't belong to one country. It's an international problem," he said.



 
 
 
 


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