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Powell Disavows Report on Saudi Arabia - 2002-08-06

The Bush administration is distancing itself from a briefing given to a Pentagon advisory board by a private analyst who said Saudi Arabia was deeply involved in supporting terrorism and, as such, is an adversary of the United States. Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned his Saudi counterpart Tuesday to disavow the remarks.

An account of the briefing in the Washington Post newspaper prompted a coordinated effort at damage-control by administration officials, who insisted Saudi Arabia remains a key U.S. partner and has been cooperating in the war on terrorism.

According to the press report, an analyst for the private Rand Corporation, Laurent Murawiec, told a Pentagon advisory board last month that Saudi Arabia has been financing and encouraging terrorism at every level, and has become what he said was the United States' "most dangerous opponent" in the Middle East.

Mr. Murawiec, a former advisor to the French Defense Ministry, proposed that the United States should threaten the kingdom with the possible seizure of its assets and oil fields if it did not halt such activity.

Responding to the newspaper account, Bush administration officials did not dispute the substance of the closed-door briefing to the Defense Policy Board, a group of former officials and experts that advise the Pentagon.

However, they said the views were those of a private individual and not those of any part of the U.S. government or administration.

In comments to reporters here, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the Bush administration is "pleased" with Saudi anti-terrorism cooperation and especially its efforts on the problem of terrorist financing. While acknowledging policy differences, Mr. Reeker said the relationship remains sound:

"We raise these differences. They raise their differences," he said. "We have private discussions at all levels and then we work to resolve them. That's what diplomacy is about. But certainly these views that have been bantered about by certain individuals do not reflect the views of the President nor of the U.S. government and the Secretary made that quite clear in his telephone conversation today."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called the leak of the briefing contents "terribly unprofessional" and harmful because, he said, it created a "misimpression" of U.S. views.

Mr. Rumsfeld, at a Pentagon open forum, acknowledged that most of the September 11 hijackers in the United States were Saudi nationals and said terrorism is an issue that Saudi Arabia, like other countries, is "wrestling with."

The Washington Post said Mr. Murawiec's depiction of Saudi Arabia - as a hindrance rather than a help in the terrorism fight - is supported by some officials within the administration and outside figures who advise the Bush White House.

But Adel al-Jubier, foreign policy adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, told the Post that such a view "defies reality." He said the 60-year-old U.S.-Saudi relationship has weathered numerous storms, and "goes from strength to strength."