Saudi Arabia's new ambassador to the United States says the Bush administration must do more to reduce conflict in the Middle East. But U.S. lawmakers wonder if Saudi Arabia is part of the solution or part of the problem.
In his first speech in Washington, Prince Turki bin al-Faisal denounced terrorism as the single biggest threat to international peace. The Saudi ambassador called groups such as al-Qaida, evil cults, and said his government would show no mercy to organizations that further their political agendas by spreading fear.
"The actions of these cults are condemned by all rational individuals and governments; by people of every color, creed and persuasion, from north and south and from east to west."
Although the Ambassador praised U.S. President George Bush for calling for a Palestinian state, he was critical of what he called the administration's "uneven handling" of the Arab-Israeli dispute. He urged the president to take a more active role in the Middle East, saying the Arab-Israeli conflict was an "open wound" that gives rise to the hatred that leads to terrorism.
"We must do everything to support these two countries as they struggle to find a peaceful and fair resolution to this conflict,” said the ambassador. “The U.S. is the only country that can play a pivotal and important role in this."
But while the ambassador was urging the Bush administration to do more, a Senate judiciary committee wanted to know if Saudi Arabia was doing enough.
At a hearing titled: “Saudi Arabia: Friend or Foe?" a U.S. Treasury Department official replayed television programs broadcast in Saudi Arabia that purportedly encourages Muslims to give money to extremists.
And Nina Shea, the director of the Center for Religious Freedom, read from Saudi-sponsored books and pamphlets available in the United States.
"It gives detailed instructions on how to build a wall of resentment between Muslims and nonbelievers: ‘Never greet Christians or Jews first, never congratulate the infidel on his holidays, never befriend an infidel unless it is to convert him’."
The ambassador says his government is reviewing all books and publications to make sure they reflect the true nature of Islam but denies allegations that the Kingdom gives money to terrorist groups.
"We have suffered as a result of terrorists, we do not support them, we do not fund them,” said Prince al-Faisal. “These terrorists are as much against us as they are against you."
Some Middle East experts believe the Senate hearing missed the real issue. Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies testified that much of the current wave of terrorism can be attributed to U.S. policy.
"The great problem we have here is understanding just how serious the anger is against us in the Islamic and Arab world and the reason for which that anger occurs. It is unfortunately our alliance with Israel, it is our presence in Iraq."
The fact that 15 of the 19 terrorists in the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington were of Saudi origin is a fact that the ambassador says is a scar on his country's history. But he says those responsible for the 9/11 attacks do not represent Saudi people or their faith and says his government has killed more than 100 terrorists and detained more than 800 suspects as proof of the Saudi government's commitment to rooting out terrorism.