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U.S. lawmaker presses Saudis on teen case

Saudi official says government wants resolution

U.S. Rep. Dan Burton, R-Indiana
U.S. Rep. Dan Burton, R-Indiana  

From Kate Snow and Andrea Koppel
CNN Washington

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A congressman on an official visit to Saudi Arabia said Friday he hopes to return to the United States accompanied by an American teenager whose mother has fought for years to bring her back to American soil.

U.S. Rep. Dan Burton, R-Indiana, traveled to Saudi Arabia to press the cases of Amjad Radwan-- a 19-year-old woman who was born in Houston but raised in Saudi Arabia by her Saudi father-- and fourteen other American citizens whom Burton says are not free to return.

Saudi officials declined to talk in detail about specific cases, but suggested the issue was being exploited for political gain.

The case of Radwan was also raised by President Bush in a meeting Tuesday with the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, at Bush's Crawford, Texas ranch.

"She (Radwan) definitely wants to come to America," Burton told CNN by telephone from Riyadh. "But they've convinced her she would be living in poverty and wouldn't have a job."

"You can imagine how terrified she is," Burton said. "She's wanted to get out of here for a long time and now that the time has come she's scared to death."

Saudi officials declined to talk about Radwan's state of mind, but Adel al-Jubair, the foreign policy adviser to the crown prince, suggested that Burton is focused on winning political points.

"This matter is an intensely personal one that involves the young lady and her family directly. It's unfortunate that some have decided to turn it into a political football for the sake of publicity. The main concern should be the well-being of the young lady and not the publicity associated with it," al-Jubair said.

"The Saudi government is working with the family to seek a satisfactory resolution to this matter," he added.

State Department officials said the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and the council general met with Radwan, her new husband and her mother earlier this week.

These officials said that Radwan told the U.S. diplomats she did not want to leave Saudi Arabia, but they're not convinced she meant it.

One State Department official explained that it is often the case that under such circumstances children living in foreign countries do not feel at liberty to say what they really feel.

But al-Jubair said the impression that such cases are unique to Saudi Arabia is misleading.

"There are over 1,000 cases involving children with one American parent around the world and less than 1 percent involve Saudi Arabia," he said. "The Saudi government is working with the families to find solutions to these cases in a way that protects the welfare of the children."

Burton is leading a congressional delegation from the House Government Reform Committee on a four-day trip to Saudi Arabia. The delegation is scheduled to return Tuesday. The six members on the trip are: Burton, the chairman; Ben Gilman, R-New York,; Bernard Sanders, I-Vermont; William Delahunt, D-Massachusetts; Mike Rogers. R-Michigan; and Brian Kerns, R-Indiana.

The committee held hearings in June titled, "Should the United States do more to help U.S. citizens held against their will in Saudi Arabia?"

The delegation is scheduled to have additional meetings Saturday with other American citizens, whom the members believe are being held against their will in Saudi Arabia. However, Burton said it was proving logistically difficult to arrange access to some of the families.

Sunday afternoon, the congressmen plan to discuss the issue at a meeting with the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, in Jetta.

Burton said he thought the timing of their trip might "create an opening" for greater cooperation between the United States and Saudi officials on the sensitive issues of parental custody and travel limits.

"They don't want any more black eyes," Burton said, pointing to reports of increasingly tense relations between the countries and the fact that 15 of the September 11 hijackers were Saudi citizens.

Burton met Friday with Radwan and her new husband. Burton said Radwan's father, Nizar Rasheed Radwan, had arranged a marriage for his daughter recently so that the new husband would be in charge of deciding whether Radwan could be allowed to leave the country.

Under Saudi law, a woman must seek permission from a male member of the family -- her father, husband, brother or son -- to travel outside the country.

Burton said Radwan's new husband appears willing to allow Radwan to leave, if he is given assurances that she would be able to return to Saudi Arabia on her own at any time in the future. The lawmaker said he assured the husband and Amjad Radwan that U.S. citizens can travel freely.

Burton also said he believes the woman is under immense pressure from Saudi authorities to avoid creating a public scene.

Radwan's American mother, Monica Stowers, has been immersed in a complex legal -- and highly emotional -- battle for her children and visitation rights for nearly 20 years.

Recently, she has been living in Saudi Arabia in an effort to take her daughter back to the United States. She submitted videotaped testimony to the congressional hearing in June. Her mother testified in Washington at that time.




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