- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 27, 2005

In the wake of last week’s announcement that Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the longtime Saudi ambassador to the United States, will be replaced by Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence and the monarchy’s current ambassador to London, Riyadh’s supporters have begun spinning the idea that the prince could be America’s salvation in the war on terror.

In an op-ed which appeared in Tuesday’s New York Times, Flynt Leverett, former director of Middle East Affairs on the National Security Council under President Bush — before he resigned and became an advisor to John Kerry’s presidential campaign last year — tried to make the case that the Bush administration needs to do more to cultivate Prince Turki and the Saudis as American allies in fighting al Qaeda terrorism. A central problem with Mr. Leverett’s thesis (which was documented in detail in congressional testimony by the Treasury Department this month) is that the Saudis remain heavily involved in financing radical jihadism.

Given Saudi Arabia’s longstanding role as a financier of the Wahhabi terrorist network that brought us everything from the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center to the September 11 attacks, many Americans might think that the United States needs to demand that the Saudi government crack down on Saudis inside and outside of government who continue to fund jihadists. That isn’t the way Mr. Leverett, who is currently a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, views the world.

According to Mr. Leverett, the president was wrong to indicate, as he did two years ago, that America’s longstanding support of repressive, autocratic regimes like the government of Saudi Arabia was in retrospect a “mistake.” Although it “has become fashionable” to argue that the United States needs to get tougher with Saudi Arabia, that won’t work, because this country’s leverage with Riyadh is declining, Mr. Leverett wrote. The only way to really enlist Saudi Arabia on our side, he believes, is for the United States “to be prepared for a serious conversation about modifying its policies toward regional security, stability and peacekeeping in Iraq and the Arab-Israeli peace process to recognize Saudi interests and initiatives” (in other words, to deliver more unreciprocated Israeli concessions to the Palestinians, the Syrian Ba’athists, etc.).

What is most striking about Mr. Leverett’s op-ed is the fact that he seems to place virtually all of the burden for improving U.S.-Saudi relations on Washington, despite the fact the Saudis remain very much involved in supporting terrorism. In July 13 testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, Stuart Levey, Treasury undersecretary in the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said that while Saudi Arabia has become much more cooperative since the May 2003 Riyadh bombings, “even today, we believe that Saudi donors may still be a significant source of terrorist financing, including for the insurgency in Iraq.” Mr. Levey singled out several Saudi charities whose support for terrorism “continue to cause us concern.” As for Prince Turki (who served as Saudi Arabia’s top interlocutor with the Taliban during the 1990s), U.S. diplomats have plenty of reason to continue to be cautious in their dealings with the Saudis.

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