- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

President Bush met briefly with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal at the White House yesterday to discuss the Middle East at a time of growing anti-American sentiment in the desert kingdom.

U.S. officials described the 20-minute session as "warm," and Prince Saud said afterward he was "very pleased with what I heard from the president."

They talked almost entirely of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East and not about Saudi links to terrorism.

The Saudi government yesterday questioned whether three men arrested in Morocco for plotting attacks on U.S. and British shipping were Saudi nationals, as reported by Morocco.

Analysts say that the Saudi reluctance to openly clamp down on terrorists comes from fear that an unknown number of Saudis support the spread of Islamic regimes, even by force.

The White House meeting was the latest in a series since Mr. Bush's April 4 call for resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

The president is expected to issue a new peace plan in the coming days.

The State Department and White House officials say they are pleased with Saudi Arabia's cooperation in the war on terrorism.

They also publicly welcome Saudi participation in efforts to stop fighting in the Middle East.

But many U.S. officials complain privately that the Saudis are moving too slowly possibly even deliberately dragging their feet and remain afraid to directly confront the supporters of militant Islam within their country.

"I hear two versions of U.S.-Saudi relations either they are not doing [enough] or they do the best they can but are scared because they realize a number of their citizens are enrolled in al Qaeda and nobody knows who they are and where they are," a leading Middle East specialist and former Pentagon consultant said on the condition of anonymity.

One sign of American concern is that the U.S. military has begun to prepare alternatives in Kuwait and Bahrain to its Saudi bases for operations against Iraq.

Robert Pelletreau, former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, said the Saudi public has begun a widespread boycott of American goods in supermarkets.

But no American contracts in Saudi Arabia have been cancelled, and the government is not in favor of the boycott.

The boycott, and rising anti-Americanism, stems more from the Bush administration's open support for Israel, such as Mr. Bush's statement Monday that "Israel has a right to defend itself."

Because that statement was not followed by a call for Israeli military restraint, it has caused widespread Arab anger.

"I had the impression that U.S.-Saudi relations improved since the visit by Crown Prince Abdullah [to Mr. Bush in Crawford, Texas]," said Mr. Pelletreau, a former ambassador to Egypt, Tunisia and Bahrain.

"But certainly there have been tensions in the past, and I wouldn't say it is completely behind us," he said. "The administration is trying to work out the right balance that can accommodate the views of Israel and the views of the Arab nations that support peace."

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