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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Saudi Arabia Key Ally Against Iraq

Aired September 30, 2002 - 12:42   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to spend a few minutes now on one of Iraq's next-door neighbors. Iraq and Saudi Arabia share a border more than 500 miles long. The two nations have much in common, of course. But, while Iraq has lurched from crisis to conflict over the past 20 years, the Saudi kingdom has been an oasis of stability, not to mention an ally of the United States, though that relationship is oftentimes very complicated, getting more so, indeed, all of the time.
In the first of a series of CNN special reports, our State Department correspondent, Andrea Koppel, takes us "Inside Saudi Arabia."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPT. CORRESPONDENT: Friend or foe? As the U.S. lobbies for support for a possible war on Iraq, it is a question leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United States have been asking a lot, each about the other, and it's shaking the very foundation of this 60-year alliance, built on basic formula: in exchange for Saudi oil, the U.S. Military will defend the Saudi kingdom.

Ever since the September 11 attacks, U.S. officials say, both sides have been forced to confront sensitive issues they had long ignored.

YOUSSEF IBRAHIM, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: The Saudi relationship with the United States has deteriorated to a point where I can describe it, if I want to be melodramatic, as one that is on the verge of a divorce.

KOPPEL: Publicly, both governments deny reports of a serious rift, on display last spring when Saudi crown Prince Abdullah refused to join President Bush at a press conference at a meeting at his Texas ranch.

Privately, Washington and Riyad point a long list of grievances. The Saudis, outraged about a classified briefing to a Pentagon advisory group suggesting Saudi Arabia should be treated as an enemy. A recent INS decision to fingerprint Saudi men among those from other Muslim countries who are applying for U.S. visas, and a perceived bias toward Israel. which the Saudis say complicate the efforts to end two years of Palestinian Israeli violence.

For its part, the U.S. criticizes the Saudis for refusing to providing enough intelligence on 15 of 19 hijackers who were Saudi citizens, accuses the kingdom of exporting and supporting radical Islam, and remains unsure whether Saudi Arabia will support a war on Iraq.

In an interview with CNN this month, the Saudi foreign minister indicated his government would cooperate, but only if that action is supported by the U.N.

Every country that has signed the charter of the United Nations has to fulfill that.

KOPPEL: With several thousand U.S. troops based at Prince Sultan airbase in the Saudi desert, next door to Iraq, U.S. officials say Saudi support will be very important.

(on camera): At the end of the day, explained one State Department official, there isn't a lot of leverage we can exercise with one another. The real strength of this relationship, he said, is that we both want to make it work, despite all of the differences.

Andrea Koppel, CNN, at the State Department.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL: At the end of the day, explained one State Department official, there isn't a lot of leverage we can exercise on one another. The real strength of this relationship, he said is that we both want to make it work, Wolf, he said, because we both need each other -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Andrea, what are the main pressure on the Saudis not to support the U.S. in case it decides to go back to war against Iraq?

KOPPEL: There are a whole range of pressures on them, from domestic to the economy. The economy has not been doing well for a number of years, and Saudi citizens are increasingly frustrated by that fact, and reports of Saudi corruption. There are also -- the fact that Saudi Arabia is home to two of Islam's three most holy sites, the very prospect of having war against an Arab state, Iraq, with many Muslims inside is also putting pressure on the Saudi's regime, and there is also regional pressure.

The Israeli-Palestinian crisis just passed its two year anniversary, and the Saudis, as you know, have joined many other Arab -- moderate Arab states, saying that they want the U.S. to resolve that, or at least cool it down before it thinks about waging war on Iraq -- Wolf.

Andrea Koppel at the State Department, thanks for that report.

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