Bush and Saudi Prince Butt Horns

The voluminous congressional report on the 9/11 terrorist attacks – especially the 28 axed pages – became an instant best seller in the top circle of princes, read avidly by Crown Prince Abdullah, defense minister Prince Sultan, his son the Saudi ambassador to Washington Prince Bandar, foreign minister Saud al Faisal, Interior minister Nayef and governor of Riyadh Prince Salman.


After deciding to bury the document before it circulated any further, Abdullah sent foreign minister Saud al-Faisal post haste to Washington with a demand for the 28 pages to be declassified to give the Saudis a chance to defend themselves against accusations of complicity in the 9/ll hijackings.


“The Saudis knew perfectly well about the president’s decision to black the explosive pages which also refer to them,” according to our source. “They demanded that Saud al Faisal be received in the White House without delay as though it was a matter of life and death. In fact, it was a matter of self-interest. They manufactured a crisis to give themselves a chance to say loud and clear for all to hear that the allegations in the unpunished section were lies. It was important for the royal house to demonstrate to Saudi religious and tribal leaders, as well as to al Qaeda supporters at home – overt and clandestine – that Riyadh will brook no accusations such as are contained in the report and is doing everything in its power to fend them off.


In the view of DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources, this was a Saudi exercise to pacify al Qaeda sympathizers in the kingdom and ease internal tensions.


Even more important, the unpublished substance of the report gave the Saudis another excuse for huffily withholding cooperation from Washington in the sensitive interrogations of the terrorist suspects rounded up in the kingdom.


To pre-empt the Saudis, Bush immediately agreed to receive the Saudi foreign minister on Tuesday, July 29, but declared firmly ahead of al Faisal’s arrival that the disputed pages would not be declassified.


Understanding he had been outmaneuvered, Prince al-Faisal waxed sarcastic as he came out of his interview with Bush: “The President praised Riyadh as a strong ally in the war on terror as well as a joint victim of terrorists…” Declaring that his country had captured some 500 terrorists and had nothing to hide, he added: “It is inconceivable that this president would try and cover up any aspects of 9/11.”


Our sources disclose that the Saudi prince grumpily complained in the ears of his advisers about being classed as a “victim of terror”.


President Bush and the Saudi foreign minister al-Faisal fell out some time before the 9/11 report was published. In early March, when Riyadh understood that nothing would deter the Bush administration from launching an invasion of Iraq, Prince Saud al Faisal visited the White House to discuss terms for Saudi assistance, chiefly in the form of air bases close to the Iraqi border being made available to the US Air Force. In return, the Saudi royal house sought a presidential pledge not to open up American’s strategic oil reserve for fear world prices would be driven down. Bush and his advisers were willing to accede in return for a counter-promise from Riyadh to step up production in order to bring oil prices down to the 20-22 dollars per barrel level.


On the spot, the Saudi foreign minister phoned Crown Prince Abdullah’s palace and obtained his consent to the deal. It was personally guaranteed by the two princes.


However, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington and Gulf sources affirm, Bush kept his side of the bargain; the Saudi princes did not. Instead of raising production, they reduced it, sending oil prices rocketing over 30 dollars per barrel up until the present.


On a later occasion, President Bush sharply reproved the Saudi foreign minister, complaining that Riyadh’s breach of faith had the effect of canceling out some key Iraq war gains. In private conversation, the president accused the Saudis of mining the war for the sake of financial profit and damaging the American economy. The price of oil continues to be high, weighing down on President Bush plans to kick off his re-election campaign with the glad tiding of falling energy prices. Instead, the price of oil has become a campaign handicap.


When they met at the White House on Tuesday, Saud al Faisal found his host in an exceptionally blunt mood after he had just seen the Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon off.


 


Riyadh Exaggerates Scale of Terrorist Crackdown


 


Bush after pointing out that what had been written could not now be unwritten, moved onto the offensive. If anyone had cause for a grievance, he said, it was Washington not Riyadh. The president proceeded to tear into the reports Riyadh put about of the Saudi security authorities’ merciless crackdown against al Qaeda terrorists and their accomplices up and down the kingdom, punctuated by heroic firefights. None of it was true, said Bush. There may be more Saudi security troops out and about than before al Qaeda’s triple attacks in Riyadh on May 12, but, the president insisted, they are mostly passive. The only times clashes occur is when a Saudi force stumbles on a terrorist cell and comes under attack first.


Furthermore, while Saudi spin specialists spread stories around the American media claiming CIA and FBI officers are free to join Saudi interrogations of detained Saudi terrorists, and even put in their own questions, very little has changed since 1995. Aside from a handful of cases immediately after May 12, the Saudis consistently deny American investigators access to suspects. Even when suspects are caught on the strength of leads from US intelligence, American agents are only permitted to read censored transcripts of suspects’ interrogations, no direct access.


Bush also charged the Saudis with practicing the “revolving door” method to inflate their arrest figures. Most are freed after a few days, some even without being questioned. Another grave accusation he leveled based on US intelligence input was that Saudi funds continue to flow to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in Europe and the Middle East. Notwithstanding Saudi assurances that they had clamped down on the funds reaching Muslim charities, large sums are still funneled through Gulf emirates.


To stem the US president’s diatribe, the Saudi foreign minister offered to allow American investigators to question Omar al-Bayoumi, According to the congressional report, this Saudi Arabian helped two of the Saudi hijackers who died in the 9/11 attacks to settle in San Diego with the help of funds provided by “high-placed Saudis within the country’s ruling elite.” One of those high-placed Saudis was Princess Haifa al-Faisal, the wife of Saudi ambassador to Washington Prince Bandar bin Sultan. She has repeatedly denied knowing the destination of the money she forwarded.


What emerges clearly from the report is that, however circuitous the routes, the financing for at lest two of the September 11 suicide hijackers came from two principal sources: ruling circles in Riyadh and close allies of Washington working out of the Saudi embassy in the heart of Foggy Bottom.


As for Saud al Faisal’s gesture regarding al-Bayoumi, he forgot to mention a small point: Under the law of his country, a citizen has the right to refuse to answer the questions of foreign investigators. Al Bayoumi would merely be tagged onto the list of unavailable Saudi citizens Washington wants to question which has been growing since 1995. The Riyadh authorities come up with the most inventive excuses for their brush-offs. They don’t know the suspect’s address, or he is still under their own investigation and, when all else fails, the detainee is said to have sadly passed away in his cell.

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