- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

CAIRO Libya recalled its ambassador to Saudi Arabia yesterday after an unprecedented public exchange of insults between the Saudi crown prince and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi at an Arab summit in Egypt.
Libya reiterated that it was planning to withdraw from the Arab League, the 22-nation organization that sponsored last weekend's meeting.
Col. Gadhafi, addressing a summit broadcast live Saturday by most Arab satellite television stations, said that during the 1990 Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, he had voiced concern about the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia.
Many Arabs, including al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, deeply resent the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia, birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and the site of Islam's two holiest shrines. Saudi Arabia asked the United States to send troops there in 1990 to protect it against any Iraqi invasion.
"King Fahd told me that his country was threatened, and that he would cooperate with the devil to protect it," Col. Gadhafi said.
The Saudi monarch holds the revered position of custodian of the shrines, and to attribute such a remark to him is deeply offensive to the royal family.
"Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country and not an agent of colonialism like you and others," responded Crown Prince Abdullah, the king's brother, who serves as Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler because King Fahd is ill.
Wagging his finger at Col. Gadhafi, the prince said: "You, who brought you to power? Don't talk about matters that you fail to prove. Your lies precede you, while the grave is ahead of you."
A bewildered-looking Col. Gadhafi replied: "By God, I don't know how I am going to answer this man." At that point, the television feed was cut off.
The prince's comments apparently stemmed from the belief held in parts of the Arab world that the United States backed the 1969 bloodless military coup that ousted Libya's King Idris and brought Col. Gadhafi to power.
Later Saturday, thousands of Libyans took to the streets of Tripoli, their capital, in protest. Riot police with tear gas and batons dispersed protesters who tried to break into the Saudi Embassy.
The Libyan Embassy in the Saudi capital of Riyadh said Ambassador Mohammed Saeed al-Qashat was recalled for "consultations."
"This recall is not permanent or final, but it's difficult to say how long it will last," an embassy official told the Associated Press. He said he expected Saudi Arabia to withdraw its ambassador to Libya soon if the matter was not resolved.
Before the summit, Col. Gadhafi had criticized the league as ineffective and threatened to quit. Meeting yesterday with editors of Egyptian newspapers in Cairo, he confirmed Libya's intention to withdraw and said "this is serious and official," according to Egypt's Middle East News Agency.
He added that Libya's Arab League membership has "almost hidden our identity as a North African country," a reflection of Col. Gadhafi's moves to align Libya more closely with the rest of Africa and his sponsorship of the newly founded African Union.
Arab League spokesman Hisham Youssef said he was not aware of any Libyan withdrawal plans.
The Libyan Embassy official in Riyadh said what had happened between Col. Gadhafi and the prince was nothing but a "summer cloud, and matters should not be escalated by the media."
He said the Saudi Embassy in Tripoli and all Saudi citizens in Libya were safe, and he characterized the recent demonstrations as peaceful protests expressing anger at the prince's comments.

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