- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 17, 2004

Panel clears Saudis

The September 11 commission cleared the wife of the Saudi ambassador and two Saudi men of accusations that they helped the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The Saudi Embassy said the report this week by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States also found that the Saudi government had no connection to the al Qaeda network that organized the September 11 hijackings.

“The 9/11 commission has dispelled two of the most outrageous myths about Saudi Arabia,” said Adel al-Jubeir, foreign-affairs adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.

“Unlike insinuations in a previous congressional report, which perpetuated these myths … now there are clear statements by an independent commission that separate fact from fiction.”

A classified congressional report last year linked Princess Haifa al-Faisal, wife of Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan, to two Saudi students living in San Diego in 2001. The report said Princess Haifa sent money to the wife of Osama Bassnan. He was a friend of Omar al-Bayoumi, who the report said was an associate of Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, two of the 15 Saudis involved in the September 11 attacks.

The Saudi Embassy always has maintained that the payments were to help cover medical expenses.

The commission this week said it found no evidence that two terrorists received any money from the Saudi students or that Princess Haifa “provided any funds to the conspiracy either directly or indirectly.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom yesterday criticized Saudi Arabia for religious discrimination.

The commission called on the State Department to designate Saudi Arabia as a “country of particular concern,” a classification that requires the U.S. government to pressure such nations to guarantee religious freedom.

Commission Chairman Michael K. Young criticized Saudi Arabia for its “continued systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.”

Morocco free trade

The United States and Morocco this week signed a free-trade agreement that will give the North African nation greater access to the U.S. market.

“With our signatures on this agreement, our two countries will open a new chapter in a bilateral relationship that has already stretched into its third century,” Moroccan trade negotiator Tabi Fassi Fihri told U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick.

Morocco formally recognized the United States in 1787.

Mr. Fihri said the agreement also will promote economic and political reform in his country and give the United States an advantage in the region.

“With this agreement, Morocco becomes a bridge between the United States, the Middle East, Africa and even Europe; for indeed, Morocco is situated at the crossroads between continents and alongside the frontiers between different cultures,” he said.

Mr. Zoellick also recognized the political benefits from the agreement.

“Step by step, the [Bush] administration is building bridges of free trade with economic and social reformers in the Middle East.”

Yesterday, two former U.S. trade representatives added their support for the agreement and urged the Senate to approve the agreement quickly.

“This is a sound agreement that promotes our commercial interests and contains important provisions on agriculture, labor and intellectual property,” said Clayton Yeutter, who served in the Reagan administration.

Clinton trade negotiator Mickey Kantor said the agreement rewards Morocco for “historic reforms” that guarantee women’s rights and labor protection.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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