- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2003

Is bin Laden smiling?

The Saudi ambassador this week accused the former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations of putting “a smile on Osama bin Laden’s face” by spreading accusations against his country and damaging U.S.-Saudi relations in testimony before a congressional committee.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz complained to House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde that the testimony by Israeli Ambassador Dore Gold was “spurious, unverified and baseless.”

Mr. Gold, the author of “Hatred’s Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism,” briefed the committee on Tuesday on the evidence he cites tying Saudi Arabia to such terrorists as members of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network.

Bin Laden is blamed for masterminding the September 11 attacks, which involved 15 Saudi terrorists.

“Mr. Gold has been spreading untruths and inciting hatred of our country,” Mr. Bandar said in a letter Wednesday to the Illinois Republican.

He accused Mr. Gold of unwittingly abetting bin Laden.

“If [Mr. Gold] is attempting to damage the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, then he is unwittingly doing Osama bin Laden’s bidding,” Mr. Bandar said.

The ambassador recounted steps Saudi Arabia has taken to combat terrorism and noted that Saudis had been killed in an al Qaeda bomb attack on May 12.

“This is a time when we should be seriously working together and not engaging in grandstanding, sensationalizing or hurling baseless charges at each other,” Mr. Bandar said. “Such actions can only help put a smile on Osama bin Laden’s face.”

Mr. Gold could not be reached for comment yesterday, but he recently outlined his charges against Saudi Arabia in an interview with National Review Online.

“It is imperative that the U.S. and its Western allies focus on the Saudi problem,” he said in an interview on May 14. “Saudi support for terrorism is global.”

Mr. Gold said a Saudi charity, the International Islamic Relief Organization, has “funneled millions of dollars to al Qaeda in the past.”

“The [Saudi] royal family regularly makes contributions to these charities, using them as a conduit to bin Laden,” he said.

Mr. Bandar said Saudi Arabia provides legitimate support for Palestinians “who need food, medicine and shelter” and condemns suicide bombers, although Saudi charities have provided aid to the families of suicide attackers.

“Our financial support is given in the same manner as that of the United States,” he said. “We provide aid to the Palestinians through the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations.”

Mr. Bandar said, “Suicide bombings violate the principles of Islam, and we condemn the taking of innocent lives. … We strongly take issue with the claim that the Saudi government has funded and continues to fund al Qaeda.

“As we have painfully witnessed, Saudi Arabia is, itself, a target of al Qaeda. The terrorists hate us because we are trying to move our country forward, to modernize and become a part of the world economy.”

Mr. Bandar borrowed a phrase from President Bush, calling terrorists “evildoers.”

“They want to return the country to the dark ages and cut off ties to the rest of the world,” he said. “Al Qaeda is a cult that has declared war on our country and society. We have been fighting this cult, not funding it.”

Russia-U.S. summit

The U.S. ambassador to Russia said President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin will concentrate on economic issues when they meet at Camp David in September.

“We are still at the very early stage of discussing the agenda for the Camp David summit. I think that both presidents would like to devote considerable attention to the development of our economic ties at this meeting,” Ambassador Alexander Vershbow said in an interview published yesterday by Russia’s Interfax news agency.

Mr. Vershbow added that Russia “is on the right path of carrying out [economic] reforms.”

“We hope this will lead to increasing foreign investments and contribute to economic growth and to the country’s health in general,” he said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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