- The Washington Times - Monday, August 19, 2002

Saudi PR campaign

The Saudi Embassy is trying to counter growing perceptions in the United States that Saudi Arabia is financing terrorism and undermining U.S. efforts to combat Muslim militants intent on attacking American targets.

"Saudi Arabia is fully cooperating with the United States and the international coalition in the military efforts against terrorism and has frozen the financial assets of suspected terrorist organizations," the Saudi government said in a new booklet the embassy distributed last week.

The desert kingdom most recently was stung by reports of a briefing before a Pentagon advisory panel that portrayed Saudi Arabia as an enemy of the United States and active at every level of terrorism.

The briefing also noted that 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudi citizens.

Bush administration officials quickly distanced themselves from the briefing by Rand Corp. analyst Laurent Murawiec to the Defense Policy Board. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell insisted Saudi Arabia was an ally in the war against terrorism.

The Saudi Embassy, in the booklet titled "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Updated Information on Current Issues," denounced suicide bombings as a sin against Islam and maintained that a recent telethon was not intended to encourage terrorist attacks.

"Suicide bombers are not condoned by Islam, which regards the taking of one's own life as a sin, as is the murder of innocent people," the booklet says.

It also said the word "martyr," often used by extremists to describe suicide bombers, should be applied only to "anyone who dies innocently."

An April telethon raised $109.5 million to provide "humanitarian assistance to Palestinians who have suffered as a result of the Israeli occupation and the recent Israeli aggression," the booklet acknowledges.

But it says the funds "are not intended to go to suicide bombers or to encourage suicide bombings."

Go for the bronze

The United States has awarded the Bronze Star to the former commander of the Australian special forces unit in Afghanistan, the Australian Embassy reports.

Lt. Col. Rowan Tink, who commanded the unit during Operation Anaconda in March, received the medal for his "outstanding leadership, strategic and tactical proficiency, dedication to duty and commitment to mission accomplishment in a combat zone under the most extreme of circumstances [that] greatly contributed to the success of Operation Enduring Freedom," the award citation said.

Maj. Gen. Frank Hagenbeck, the U.S. commander of coalition mountain forces, presented the award in a ceremony last month.

The embassy noted that Gen. Hagenbeck said, "You won't find a more professional group than the Australians that have served here with us."

Baltic caucus expands

The Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus picked up its 11th member last week when Nebraska Democrat E. Benjamin Nelson joined the legislative group that promotes U.S. interests with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Mr. Nelson, a member of the Armed Services Committee, was part of a Senate delegation that visited Latvia for the July summit of NATO candidate countries. The Baltic nations are expected to be admitted to the alliance at NATO's November summit in Prague.

The Senate caucus is co-chaired by Oregon Republican Gordon H. Smith and Illinois Democrat Richard J. Durbin.

The House Baltic Caucus, chaired by Illinois Republican John Shimkus and Ohio Democrat Dennis J. Kucinich, claims 71 members.

Diplomatic traffic

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:


•Prince Bhisatej Ratjani of Thailand, who opens a Thai Embassy exhibition on development in the Thai highlands.

•Venezuelan Foreign Minister Roy Chaderton, who meets Cesar Gaviria, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, and Roger Noriega, U.S. ambassador to the OAS and chairman of the OAS Permanent Council. Tomorrow he meets Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.


•Ahmed Rashid, Pakistani specialist on the Taliban and radical Islam. He addresses invited guests of the Washington Institute on Near East Policy.

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