Signs of Strain in U.S.-Saudi Relations

The U.S. military campaign to crush Saudi-born terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and his global al Qaeda network is impacting on America's relationship with one of its oldest and staunchest Middle East allies, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The amateur videotape released by the Pentagon Dec. 13 of bin Laden dining and laughing with a guest Saudi sheikh underlines what bin Laden has stressed since the early 1990s: a high priority of his — and possibly his main target — is King Fahd's Saudi monarchy and its long partnership, dating back to World War II, with the United States.

Bin Laden's questions on the tape and the Saudi sheikh's answers, concerning the "joy" of other Saudi clerics at the news of the damage and casualties in the Sept. 11 attacks, was a new reminder of the kingdom's pivotal — and shaky — role in the U.S. -led anti-terror coalition.

Al Jazeera, the independent, Qatar-based Arab TV channel, was one of several Arab satellite channels to avoid taking a public stand on the apparently amateur video's authenticity. "We aired the tape like any other footage we might obtain," said one anonymous al Jazeera spokesman.

Public Declarations of Discontent and Threats

Al Jazeera aired two exclusive bin Laden interviews in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Both tapes embellished a line the Saudi construction tycoon has taken since his first public remarks opposing the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War.

On one pre-recorded tape, which the network aired soon after the Oct. 7 launch of U.S.-led airstrikes on Afghanistan, bin Laden tried to rally the world's 1.2 billion Muslims around the flag of jihad (holy war) to "liberate" his native Saudi Arabia, cradle of the Muslim faith, from "occupying U.S. forces."

"I swear by God that America and those who live in America will not dream of possessing security before we have it in Palestine and all infidel armies leave the land of the Prophet Muhammad," he vowed.

In another public videotape, broadcast Nov. 3, bin Laden issued a verbal scorcher against the United Nations, its secretary-general, Kofi Anan, and Arab leaders at the United Nations, calling the latter "infidels" for their support of Washington's war against terror.

An Irate Letter

In one of many recent bitter and outspoken commentaries by a Saudi, Jamal Kashoggi, a Saudi political analyst, wrote a column warning that the United States and Saudi Arabia were on the brink of parting ways after 60 years. This, said Kashoggi, was the theme of a letter Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah wrote to President Bush before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Abdullah effectively rules the oil-rich kingdom for the ailing King Fahd.

According to Kashoggi, the reason for the escalating tensions was United States' "unqualified" support for Israel in its "ruthless" campaign against the Palestinians and their leader Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Authority.

To stress the relevance of his letter after Sept 11, Kashoggi said Abdullah re-read the original letter earlier this month to a meeting of more than 100 Saudi businessmen.

The cause of the prince's repetition, said Kashoggi and other Arab columnists, was White House assertions that "Israel has the right to defend itself" even as U.S.-made Israeli warplanes were bombing Arafat's headquarters, transport facilities and police infrastructures.

Crackdown on Charities

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