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US Offers to Expand Anti-Terror Cooperation With Saudi Arabia - 2003-11-10

The United States is offering to expend anti-terrorism cooperation with Saudi Arabia, following the car bomb attack Saturday in Riyadh that U.S. officials say bore the hallmarks of the al-Qaida terror organization. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage made the offer in talks in Riyadh with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah.

Mr. Armitage, who arrived in Saudi Arabia on a previously-scheduled visit only hours after Saturday's attack, told reporters it is "quite clear" that al-Qaida wants to "take down" the Saudi government and ruling family.

According to State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher, Mr. Armitage offered to increase the already considerable level of anti-terrorism cooperation between the two countries, and to make the Saudis, in the spokesman's words "fully participating partners" in the war on terrorism, if that is the desire of Saudi authorities.

Mr. Boucher said Saturday's attack, aimed at a residential complex mainly housing Arab foreigners in Riyadh, was something of a watershed in terrorist tactics in Saudi Arabia, since its target was apparently not U.S. interests in the kingdom, but the Saudi government itself. "The attack once again shows that we are all targets, that al-Qaida, presumably, or whoever is responsible for this attack is not just going after Westerners or foreigners. They're going after Arabs as well. They're going after everybody, including the Saudi government. Everybody who is trying to organize society and move in a positive direction," he said.

Spokesman Boucher said U.S.-Saudi cooperation and information-sharing on al-Qaida and related threats had increased sharply following bomb attacks on three housing compounds in Riyadh last May that killed more than 30 people, including eight Americans.

But he said in the wake of an attack like the one Saturday, one has to conclude that the two governments could be doing more.

Mr. Armitage's meeting with Crown Prince Abdullah followed a telephone call by President Bush to the de facto Saudi ruler Sunday, in which he expressed condolences for the losses in the Riyadh attack, and said the United States stands with Saudi Arabia in the struggle against terrorism.

Spokesman Boucher said the three U.S. diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia will remain closed, at least until the end of this week, though he said U.S. Embassy personnel and their families in Riyadh were no longer barred from leaving their housing areas.

The State Department had publicly warned Friday, on the eve of the attack, that there was specific and credible information about potential attacks on U.S. interests in Saudi Arabia.

Officials here put out a similarly worded warning Monday about possible terrorist activity in Sudan, and confirmed that the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum would also be closed until the end of the week.

The officials refused to say if the Sudan warning was related al-Qaida. Earlier this month, the embassy in Khartoum put out an advisory to Americans there about threats by hard-line Sudanese factions opposed to the U.S. role in trying to end that country's north-south civil conflict.