- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2006

Saudi complaints

The Saudi ambassador complained that U.S. criticism of the slow pace of reform in his country is too often full of “political rhetoric and bombast” instead of “constructive commentary” and added that the authoritarian oil-rich kingdom will set its own agenda for change.

Ambassador Prince Turki al-Faisal also urged the Bush administration to adopt a new policy toward the Arab world and work harder to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He added that the United States needs to make major reforms of its own, especially in the financing of political campaigns.

He told the Center for Strategic and International Studies this week that Saudi Arabia’s most vocal critics in Congress show too little understanding of one of the most important U.S. allies in the Middle East.

“We don’t mind being criticized,” Prince Turki said. “But it is the way in which Americans criticize, whether it is politicians or public figures or thought leaders, that causes us concern.

“We often hear political rhetoric and bombast and not constructive commentary. Americans want to see and hear about reform and change in Saudi society and political culture. That is on the agenda, ladies and gentlemen.

“But we’re not going to change just because you tell us to. We are changing and reforming our society because it is the right thing to do for our people and our country. We will do so in our own way in accordance with our traditions and culture.”

Prince Turki said Arabs want to see the United States make some policy changes as well, although he did not elaborate on his call for campaign finance reform in U.S. elections.

“We also want to see reform in the United States,” he said. “Your reform on campaign contributions is essential and needed — yesterday, not tomorrow.”

Prince Turki urged the Bush administration to make fundamental changes in its approach to the Middle East.

“Your policy towards the Arab world must change and be reformed in order to overcome the slump in America’s standing in my country and in every other Arab and Muslim country,” he said.

“Why not productively engage us instead of engaging in rhetoric that seems designed to drive us apart?”

Prince Turki criticized Washington’s analysis of his country. The State Department’s annual human rights reports cite Saudi Arabia for civil rights violations, widespread discrimination against women and the lack of religious freedom.

“Currently, we find the analysis of Saudi Arabia lacking,” he said. “It does not have a clear and real understanding of what is going on in the kingdom and appears to be emotionally driven.

“It needs to be less revealing of political agenda and more of good sense and plain dealing.”

India angered

India yesterday denounced comments by the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, who chided India for publicly blaming its regional nuclear rival for the bombings in Bombay that killed more than 200 people in July.

“We have seen the remarks attributed to Ambassador [Ryan] Crocker,” said foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna.

“Coming from a democracy like the United States, one would have expected Ambassador Crocker to understand that democratic governments have a primary responsibility to keep their own people fully informed.”

Mr. Crocker told Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper this week that India should have used diplomatic channels to discuss its suspicions that the Pakistani military’s spy agency masterminded the train bombings.

“India should communicate with Pakistan by having direct contact instead of talking about the [Bombay] train blasts in public,” he said. “We hope that both the countries would keep all their channels open to rectify their misunderstandings.”

Bombay Police Commissioner A.N. Roy last week accused Pakistani intelligence of planning the attacks.

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