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US Denies Saudi Withdrawal Report - 2002-01-18

The Bush Administration says it has had no talks with Saudi Arabia about withdrawing U.S. troops there. The administration was responding to a U.S. newspaper report saying Saudi leaders want U.S. troops to leave because their presence has become a political liability.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says the U.S. - Saudi alliance is as strong as it has ever been. He says the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia provides what he calls "a stabilizing effect in a dangerous region."

Mr. Fleischer was responding to a report in the Friday The Washington Post newspaper quoting unnamed Saudi officials as saying the United States has "overstayed its welcome." The article says the presence of American fighter jets and some 5,000 troops has become a liability for the kingdom's leaders in both the Arab world and domestic politics.

U.S. troops went to Saudi Arabia in 1990 during the Persian Gulf War. They have remained without a formal agreement between the governments.

Earlier this week, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee said it may be a good idea for the U.S. to leave Saudi Arabia. Democratic Senator Carl Levin wants the Pentagon to review its military relationship with the Saudi kingdom, saying the environment for U.S. troops there is "less than hospitable."

The highest-ranking female fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force is suing the Pentagon for ordering her to wear a traditional Muslim headscarf when traveling on official business in Saudi Arabia. Defense officials say it is necessary so as not to offend local sensibilities in a country where Saudi women are veiled head to toe.

There is also concern among some Senate Democrats that Saudi officials have not cooperated fully in the effort to fight terrorism. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on September 11 were Saudi nationals. Some U.S. officials say the Saudi government has refused to fully cooperate with the investigation into a 1996 terrorist bombing of U.S. military barracks which killed 19 American airmen.

Throughout this current war on terrorism, President Bush has said he is satisfied with Saudi cooperation. Mr. Fleischer said the current military arrangement between the countries is "working well." He called Saudi participation in the fight against terrorism "strong and helpful."