- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2001

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld traveled to the Middle East this week, attempting, among other things, to secure the crucial cooperation of Saudi Arabia in the military and diplomatic coalition President Bush has been assembling since Osama bin Laden orchestrated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the American homeland. It would be an important step forward if Mr. Rumsfeld informed the Saudi monarchy that the time to take sides has come.

As recently as last week, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell had apparently achieved a major diplomatic breakthrough with the Saudis. Mr. Powell reportedly had been lobbying the Saudi government to reverse its policy prohibiting the United States from using Saudi air bases to command and stage offensive air operations. The words of Prince Saud Faisal, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, seemed to leave no room for misinterpretation. Following a Sept. 26 meeting with officials from the European Union, the prince committed his nation to full cooperation with the multinational coalition that President Bush was forming. The Saudi kingdom would participate in an international campaign "not just to track down the criminals of the Sept. 11 attacks but [also] to exterminate the infrastructure that helps the terrorists," the prince asserted, according to an account of his statement in the Saudi-based Arab News. In the event that the coalition is required to take military action against bin Laden, moreover, the Saudi foreign minister promised that his country "will not avoid its duty."

Senior U.S. officials understandably interpreted the prince's remarks to convey a Saudi decision to permit the use, in offensive military actions, of U.S. troops and aircraft that are stationed at the state-of-the-art Prince Sultan Air Base, which the United Stages built in the Saudi desert 70 miles southeast of the Saudi capital. After all, earlier that same week, Saudi Arabia had severed diplomatic relations with the Taliban-run Afghan government. At the time, the Saudi government harshly criticized the Taliban itself.

Several days after Prince Saud's seemingly clear commitment, however, Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan sent precisely the opposite signal. "We will not accept in our country even a single soldier who will attack Muslims or Arabs," the defense minister told a government-controlled newspaper. Once again, Saudi Arabia seems to have had difficulty making up its mind.

Speaking of indispensable allies, the Taliban rulers certainly know who theirs have been during the years they have been both harboring bin Laden (which began in 1996) and consolidating their tyrannical control over the greater part of Afghanistan. It has been an open secret in the Middle East that the Saudis have been indirectly bankrolling bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist organization, including disgruntled members of the corrupt House of Saud itself, according to sources cited by U.S. News & World Report.

Now, we learn that even after bin Laden had issued a fatwa, or religious edict, attacking the Saudi royal family for its corruption, the Saudis, knowing that bin Laden had been implicated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, still refused a May 1996 CIA request to accept Sudan's offer to turn over bin Laden. The next month after bin Laden relocated to Afghanistan terrorists who were linked to both bin Laden and extremist Shiite groups associated with Iran detonated a truck bomb that destroyed a military housing complex near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and killed 19 U.S. servicemen. Several months later, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh accused the Saudi government of withholding evidence from U.S. investigators.

The time for the House of Saud to quit acting with such unmitigated chutzpah passed long ago. The time for it to assume its rightful, responsible and constructive role in the anti-terrorist coalition is now. There were indications yesterday that Mr. Rumsfeld might be more persuasive with the Saudis than Mr. Powell turned out to be. For their sake and ours, he had better be.

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