- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Saudi frustration

Saudi Ambassador Prince Turki al-Faisal was stunned when he learned that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter scheduled a hearing titled “Saudi Arabia: Friend or Foe?”

“Frankly, I thought that was a bit insulting to Saudis because we have never been a foe of the United States,” he told the Brookings Institution in a recent speech.

Prince Turki met with the Pennsylvania Republican and urged him to call whenever he had questions about Saudi foreign or domestic policies.

“That is a message I want all members to hear. If you have a concern about Saudi Arabia, come to us,” he said, promising to talk personally with all members of Congress or direct them to a Saudi diplomat with answers to their questions.

Dealing with congressional critics is only part of the frustration the ambassador feels as he tries to continue repairing U.S.-Saudi relations that “plunged into crisis” after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Fifteen of the 19 terrorists involved were Saudi subjects.

Nearly five years later, relations between the Saudi government and the Bush administration have improved greatly. However, deep suspicion remains in other quarters, he said.

Most recently, the Freedom House human rights group released a study of Saudi schoolbooks that countered Saudi government insistence that intolerance has been expunged from the education system.

“We don’t mind criticism,” Prince Turki said. “But it is the way in which Americans criticize … that causes us concern. We often hear political rhetoric and not constructive commentary.”

He recognized that Americans are impatient with the pace of change in the desert kingdom and birthplace of Islam.

“Americans want to see and hear about reform and change in Saudi society and political culture,” he said. “This is on the agenda, but we’re not going to change just because you told us to.”

The ambassador said his government has initiated a “national dialogue” to review “issues such as extremism, the role of women and cultural tolerance.”

Prince Turki said Saudi Arabia has considered itself a friend of the United States for 60 years, but the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon caused a fundamental change in Saudi society.

“We all had to begin again because more than buildings collapsed that day. Relationships, understanding and security all fell apart,” he said. “We had to re-examine who we thought we knew and our sense of the world around us.”

He noted that one American columnist wrote that since the attacks, “Saudi Arabia has gone through a state of shock, then denial, then introspection and then action.”

“I think that is a fair assessment,” he added.

Canadian oil

Many Americans are prepared to pay an even higher price for gas, if they can replace oil from unstable nations with more energy from Canada, according to a poll of U.S. voters released yesterday.

“This poll serves to substantiate the tremendous opportunity for cooperation between the U.S. and Canada on energy security issues,” said Murray Smith, a minister-counselor at the Canadian Embassy.

“We must work together to ensure a level of energy supply sufficient to meet rapidly rising demand, as well as to avert the potentially devastating economic impact of a significant supply disruption.”

The poll of 1,000 Americans released by the Canadian American Business Council showed that 41 percent favored replacing oil from unstable regions with Canadian oil, even at higher prices. Fifty percent opposed such a move.

“As more and more Americans recognize Canada as a secure source of energy resources, this support should only increase,” said council Chairman Randolph Dove.

Only 2 percent of Americans were aware that Canada is the No. 1 foreign supplier of oil to the United States, although 88 percent held a favorable view of their northern neighbor.

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

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