Signs of Strain in U.S.-Saudi Relations

Saudi anger, further compounded by the latest embarrassment caused by the bin Laden videotapes, was aroused anew by Bush's justification of his decision to freeze the assets of a Texas-based American charity, The Holy Land Foundation, specializing in delivering aid to Palestinians.

The Saudi media, including state television, highlighted Bush's remark that "the money raised by Holy Land is used by [the blacklisted group ]Hamas to teach children how to become suicide bombers, and to support the families of suicidal terrorists."

The Saudis interpreted this as a total endorsement, if not parroting, of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's long-held line.

Judging by the coverage in the Saudi media, the situation has been further inflamed by the recent arrival of a U.S. financial and security team in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, to discuss Saudi-U.S. cooperation to ensure funds raised by Saudi charities are not funneled to terror organizations.

"It is indeed odd," wrote Kashoggi, "how Americans who lived through the civil rights movement of the 1960s and who built a museum in Washington dedicated to victims of racist oppression can acquiesce to the racist notion of stopping humanitarian aid to children in need."

Allegations and Counter Allegations

Rhetoric such as this is only one sign that despite Washington and Riyadh reaffirmations that all is well with U.S.-Saudi relations, which dates back to a World War II meeting between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Saudi King Abdelazziz aboard the U.S. Navy cruiser Quincy, relations between the two countries have rarely been worse than they are now.

U.S. officials and diplomats still privately gripe about the lack of Saudi cooperation in investigating previous anti-U.S. terrorist incidents in the kingdom. And following the Sept. 11 attacks, the U.S. media has been critical about the lack of Saudi support for the ongoing investigations.

The Saudis, in their turn, deny allegations of non-cooperation with U.S. investigators.

They are bitter about what they regard as a U.S. media campaign blaming Riyadh for tolerating or even breeding religious fanaticism, financing guerrilla and terrorist movements like bin Laden's al Qaeda, crushing zealous reformers and tolerating widespread corruption.

A Different World After Sept. 11

But Crown Prince Abdullah's pre-Sept. 11 letter, citing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a reason why "it is time for the United States and Saudi Arabia to look at their separate interests," worries U.S. analysts.

They recall that Saudi Arabia holds 25 percent of the world's oil reserves and is also home to Islam's holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina.

And the anti-U.S. sentiment prevails not only among young militants, but also among educated Saudis, many of them graduates from institutions such as Harvard, Yale or the University of California.

A U.S. visitor to Jeddah recently discovered that wealthy Arab merchants, who once proudly displayed autographed photos of themselves with President George Bush senior, were incensed by what they considered a racist trend to blame Muslims for the Sept. 11 attacks and the subsequent outbreaks of anthrax in the United States.

One of a number of Saudi students at Athens University said he had relatives who had been humiliated in the United States or Canada after Sept. 11.

"I'll be skipping the vacation I'd planned in Chicago and Arizona this year," he said.

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