- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 27, 2004

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister told Western ambassadors yesterday that the government would do the utmost to protect expatriates working in the kingdom.

The ambassadors had requested the meeting with Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal bin Abel Aziz to discuss what security measures the government should take to increase protection for their citizens after recent attacks targeting Westerners.

“I affirmed to all that foreigners will be treated according to our traditions, as honored guests,” Mr. al-Faisal said after the meeting. “We will shoulder our responsibilities in order to ensure their safety and security no less than the security and safety of our citizens.”

Mr. al-Faisal said that all the questions raised during the meeting in the city of Jiddah were about how to protect foreigners.

“They didn’t raise reasons for them to leave the kingdom, which means that we are all united in fighting terrorism,” he said.

The kingdom relies heavily on an estimated 8.8 million foreigners who work among 17 million Saudis. Most hold low-skill jobs, but many work in the oil, banking and other vital sectors.

Foreign expatriates have become fearful and wary as attacks against them have increased in recent weeks. Nineteen foreigners were among the 22 killed in a shooting and hostage-taking spree in the eastern oil city of Khobar on May 29 and 30. This month, two Americans and an Irishman were fatally shot in Riyadh, and American Paul M. Johnson Jr. was abducted and beheaded.

The four-hour meeting yesterday included Deputy Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and the ambassadors of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several European nations.

“We are all guests here and we need their protection, and they are doing all they can to provide that,” U.S. Ambassador James C. Oberwetter said at a separate press conference. “Americans should understand that we are united in combating this threat. This might need some time in order to overcome it.”

The ambassadors and Saudi officials also discussed the idea of allowing foreigners to carry weapons — including the private security guards who protect embassies, hotels, malls and offices. Under current law, non-Saudis cannot obtain a weapons license, but last week, a minister suggested that the rules would be changed.

But Mr. al-Faisal’s response to the ambassadors was vague.

“All are allowed to carry weapons according to conditions applied in the kingdom. This needs a license,” Mr. al-Faisal said he told the ambassadors.

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