- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia's leaders have hit back hard against Western criticism, accusing its media of running a smear campaign against Riyadh's stance on terrorism, and vowing never to compromise on Islam.

In a rare, tough statement, Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, the effective ruler of the conservative kingdom, said the Western media had "a hidden hatred against Islam."

"The fierce campaign against Saudi Arabia by the Western media is a result of a hidden hatred against Islamic doctrine and the kingdom's commitment to it," he said in comments published yesterday.

"Preserving religion and the nation is an issue on which there can be no bargaining," he told a group of ministers and newspaper editors in a briefing Tuesday.

Riyadh repeatedly has complained that the media in the West, especially the United States, has embarked on a hostile campaign to discredit the kingdom's true position against terrorism.

President Bush yesterday thanked Prince Abdullah for his support in the U.S. war on terrorism, while Saudi Arabia cited Israeli "aggression" toward Palestinians.

The White House and the official Saudi news agency offered different descriptions of the telephone conversation, with White House spokesman Ari Fleischer saying Bush used it in part to deny media reports that Washington was dissatisfied with Saudi Arabia's support.

"The president called the crown prince to thank the kingdom for its support in the international war against terrorism," Fleischer told reporters. "The president noted that he is very pleased with the kingdom's contributions to the efforts, and he said that press articles citing differences between the United States and Saudi Arabia are simply incorrect."

According to the Saudi news agency, Prince Abdullah and Mr. Bush discussed "the escalating events in the occupied Palestinian territories [where] Palestinian victims fall every day as a result of Israeli aggression on an unarmed people."

The Saudi government, as well as most leading Islamic clerics in the kingdom, has strongly criticized the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States. It has expressed readiness to contribute to the anti-terror campaign but not a war on Muslim Afghanistan.

However, several U.S. senators and leading publications have complained that Saudi Arabia was not doing enough in the war against terror. It's a charge Riyadh has categorically denied.

A scathing editorial last week by the New York Times also condemned Saudi leaders as being soft on terrorism.

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz on Tuesday said the criticism was a result of "misunderstanding and wrong assessment" of Riyadh's position, and denounced the media campaign.

But there was no crisis in U.S.-Saudi relations, said Prince Nayef, who has announced a crackdown on sympathizers or supporters of Saudi-born Osama bin Laden and has admitted that several people have been arrested.

Bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 hijack attacks, was stripped of his Saudi nationality in 1994.

U.S. law enforcement has identified at least eight of the 19 presumed hijackers as Saudi Arabian citizens.

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