RELATIONS between the United States and Saudi Arabia have deteriorated so far
that the Saudi Arabians are no longer considered allies, senior diplomatic sources
Saudi Arabia, once the indispensable cornerstone of US policy in the Arab world,
has refused to co-operate with the war on terrorism or support President Bush’s
plans to overthrow President Saddam Hussein. According to the sources, it has
handed over no Intelligence of any value about the al-Qaeda terrorist organization,
which has roots in Saudi Arabia.
The final “stab in the back” for Washington was the decision to ban American
bombers from attacking Iraq from Saudi airbases. That has soured relations to
such an extent that the country from which America launched its 1991 invasion
of Iraq is now being excluded from discussions about a post-Saddam era.
Even Syria, which in public is opposed to an attack on Iraq and has been engaged
in trade and arms deals with Baghdad, is talking secretly to the Americans and
the British about the role that Damascus may play in the region if Saddam is overthrown.
A Syrian delegation is understood to have had discussions with British officials
in London this week.
British diplomatic sources said that the Saudi ruling elite was immersed in
a “dynastic battle” and was so concerned about survival that the key figures were
afraid of taking any decision that would be interpreted by the people as being
pro-Western and anti-Arab. It had become increasingly difficult to find anyone
with sufficient clout and influence in Riyadh “to talk about anything”.
King Fahd, 79, is said by Gulf-based diplomats to be suffering increasing ill
health, giving rise to speculation about his successor. He left Geneva for his
holiday home in Spain yesterday after undergoing eye surgery.
General Tommy Franks, the US Central Command chief who is planning the campaign
against Iraq, is understood to have removed from his list of potential launch
pads the huge Prince Sultan airbase, 50 miles south of Riyadh, which the allies
used as their combined air operations center in the Gulf War. Development work
at General Franks’s alternative “war base” — the al-Udeid site in Qatar — was
now so far advanced that it would soon be a “totally self-sufficient” American
facility, the sources said.
“There may be no political decision yet, but militarily the US has made enough
preparations to attack Iraq any time, without using any facilities in Saudi Arabia,
other than Saudi airspace. It is assumed that the Saudis would not go as far as
denying over-flight rights,” the sources said.
Saudi Arabia’s failure to reveal any useful Intelligence about al-Qaeda has
been in marked contrast to the co- operation of countries such as Yemen.
Despite arresting 13 al-Qaeda suspects several months ago, the Saudi authorities
have not divulged to the Americans any material that could help Western intelligence
agencies to unravel the network, the sources said.
Sixteen Saudi al-Qaeda suspects detained by Iran after crossing from Afghanistan
had also been handed over to Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has promised that any Intelligence
gleaned from the suspects would be passed to the US.
However, the sources said: “All the Saudis are interested in is getting information
from suspect al-Qaeda terrorists which relates only to Saudi Arabia’s security.
They have not been at all co-operative in seeking answers from suspects which
might have some bearing on the international threat posed by al-Qaeda.”
The hierarchy in Saudi Arabia had been “taken by surprise” by the September
11 attacks in America, carried out by 19 hijackers of whom 15 were believed to
have been Saudi citizens. Many of the al-Qaeda suspects arrested in Afghanistan
and taken to the American interrogation camp at Guantanamo Bay were also Saudis.
Saudi Arabia had also been “deeply involved” with Pakistan in funding the Taliban
in Afghanistan, and had financed the “Salafi” Islamic ideological schools in Pakistan
at which many Taliban and al-Qaeda fundamentalists had developed their hatred
of the West.
Relations with Saudi Arabia were now so poor that there was at present only
one issue that could be seen in a positive light, and that was oil. The Saudis
supply 17 per cent of America’s oil needs.
“In all other key areas, the Saudis are not being obliging, so in planning
for Iraq the Americans have turned to Gulf states they see as real allies, such
as Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain,” the sources said. Britain’s relations with
Saudi Arabia have been complicated by the detention of five Britons, found guilty
of mounting a bombing campaign in a bootlegging war. The British prisoners allege
that they were tortured to make false confessions.
Two emissaries have been sent this year to Riyadh to raise the case with the
Saudis. However, the Saudis have shown little interest in discussing what is seen
in the Foreign Office as a case of trumped-up charges.
© Copyright 2002 Times Newspapers Ltd.