- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Prince Bandar's mission
Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan will interrupt his vacation in Aspen, Colo., today to fly to the Texas White House to deliver a letter from Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to President Bush.
Prince Bandar's sensitive shuttle diplomacy is an attempt to repair relations between his country and the United States, where Saudi Arabia is being linked to terrorism in press reports, a recent private Pentagon briefing and a trillion-dollar lawsuit by relatives of victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The letter deals with four major topics the possible war in Iraq, terrorism, Palestinian issues and Saudi-U.S. relations, according to the official Saudi newspaper Okaz.
Okaz, in a report on Sunday, also quoted a senior Bush administration official as saying that the president will explain "U.S. justifications for waging a war on Iraq."
Saudi Arabia, where thousands of U.S. troops have been stationed since the 1991 Persian Gulf war, opposes war in Iraq and has said it will bar the United States from using Saudi territory to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
The Bush administration said nothing about the letter last week when it announced Prince Bandar's visit to Mr. Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas.
"He's coming to talk about a variety of regional issues, the Middle East and many other topics," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "They'll talk about continuing to advance toward peace in the Middle East."
Mr. Fleischer said Mr. Bush rejects speculation that Saudi Arabia is in any way involved in terrorism.
"Saudi Arabia is a stalwart ally in the war against terrorism," the spokesman said. "Saudi Arabia has also played a very constructive role in trying to bring peace to the Middle East, so the president is looking forward to the visit."
Saudi Arabia is also a key supplier of oil to the United States.
The kingdom has been stung by several developments, beginning with the revelation that 15 of the 19 suicide hijackers on September 11 were Saudis. Later press reports focused on a marathon fund-raiser in Saudi Arabia that said the proceeds were going to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. Saudi officials denied those reports.
Saudis were angered by a recent private briefing to a Pentagon advisory panel from a Rand Corp. analyst who said Saudi Arabia is involved in "every level of the terror chain." Bush administration officials quickly dismissed the briefing, saying it did not reflect U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia. The Rand Corp. also disassociated itself from the briefing.
The latest rift came on Aug. 15 when more than 600 relatives of some victims of the September 11 attacks filed suit against Saudi Arabia.
Other reports say Saudi investors are pulling billions of dollars out of the U.S. economy because of the strains on the 70-year-old relationship.
Prince Bandar, the most senior foreign ambassador in the United States, is expected to return to his vacation home in Colorado after his meeting with Mr. Bush.

Aid tied to rights
The United States has put Uzbekistan on notice that it must improve its human rights record if it wants to continue receiving American aid, such as the current 10-week mission to improve health care.
Ambassador William Taylor, U.S. coordinator for Central Asian nations of the former Soviet Union, noted that the medical aid is a sign of appreciation for Uzbekistan's cooperation in the war on terrorism.
"We chose to come here because of the special relationship that we have now between the Uzbeks and the Americans," he said last week on a visit to Uzbekistan as an army medical team began the program to improve hospitals in the poverty-stricken country.
Uzbekistan allowed U.S. troops to use its territory as a staging area for the war in Afghanistan.
Mr. Taylor said Uzbekistan has released some political prisoners, prosecuted police for abuse of prisoners and eased government censorship.
"There are signs, tentative signs, that things are changing, that improvements are being made," he said.
"We've made it very clear that our continued relationship, our improved relationship and our increased assistance is dependent on continued improvement in human rights.
"If there is faltering then the assistance will not continue."

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