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Saudi thoughts

With thanks to Ronald Bleier and Al Awda.

      Quote of the day: Saudi's senior intelligence official.

      "Some days you say you want to attack Iraq, some days Somalia,
some days Lebanon, some days Syria," he said. "Who do you want to
attack? All the Arab world? And you want us to support that? It's
impossible. It's impossible."

      January 27, 2002

      Don't Weaken Arafat, Saudi Warns Bush


      IYADH, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 26 - In a blunt criticism of
President Bush, Saudi Arabia's senior intelligence official today
called Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, "a man of peace" and
warned that any action by the United States to weaken him would
destroy prospects for a peace settlement and have serious
repercussions for the kingdom.

      In a wide-ranging interview, Prince Nawwaf bin Abdul Aziz, the
kingdom's director of the intelligence service, also acknowledged
that after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the vast majority of
Saudi young adults felt considerable sympathy for the cause of the
Saudi-born terrorist Osama bin Laden, even though they rejected the
attacks in New York and Washington.

      A classified American intelligence report taken from a Saudi
intelligence survey in mid-October of educated Saudis between the
ages of 25 and 41 concluded that 95 percent of them supported Mr.
bin Laden's cause, according to a senior administration official
with access to intelligence reports.

      Prince Nawwaf confirmed the existence of the survey but did
not specify the level of support. He attributed the support to what
he called feelings of the people against the United States, largely,
he said, because of its unflinching support of Israel against the

      Although he insisted that Saudi Arabia had no intention of
asking the United States to withdraw its military presence from the
kingdom, which Mr. bin Laden has long demanded, the prince said
Saudi Arabia would not support an American military campaign against
Iraq or any other Arab or Muslim country.

      Mr. Bush suggested on Friday that Mr. Arafat was "enhancing
terrorism" in the case of a boatload of arms smuggled for use
against Israel, but Prince Nawwaf challenged that criticism and
warned Mr. Bush not to punish or isolate him.

      "All the governments, the people of the region believe that
America is supporting Israel whether it is right or wrong, and now
if something happens to Yasir Arafat, the feeling against American
policy will be stronger," he said. "Anybody will be able to use it
to damage American interests in the area. You will put Saudi Arabia
in a very bad position, because feelings about the Middle East
problem are very strong."

      The prince, who is in his 70's, is a half brother of both the
ailing King Fahd and of Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto ruler.
He spoke in English during the 45-minute interview that began in his
headquarters and continued in a car en route to a reception at the
residence of the crown prince.

      At the reception, held in honor of visiting scholars and
intellectuals attending an annual Saudi folk festival, Crown Prince
Abdullah was less pointed in his criticism of American foreign
policy. Asked by an American journalist what message he would send
to Mr. Bush about the war on terrorism, he replied: "My advice to
President Bush is to pursue the interests of the United States. This
will solve everything."

      The crown prince has repeatedly called on the administration
to become more engaged in resolving the Palestinian crisis and has
harshly criticized Washington for what he sees as its refusal to put
pressure on Israel.

      For his part, Prince Nawwaf said that if Mr. Arafat left the
scene, no other Palestinian would come forward to make peace. "If
the United States is going to make it worse by cutting ties with
Arafat, who will come to make a peace settlement?" he asked. "Do you
think anybody will do so? Or do you want to destroy the process to
reach a peace settlement?

      "I'm telling the Americans: You can accuse Arafat of anything
except that he is not a man of peace."

      Prince Nawwaf is among the most trusted advisers of the crown
prince. He replaced Prince Turki bin Faisal, who was chief of
intelligence for more than 25 years but was suddenly removed from
his post last summer.

      The interview underscored the widening gap in the perceptions
and expectations of each other of Saudi Arabia and the United States
following Sept. 11.

      On the American side, there is an official line that relations
are strong and that the Saudis are cooperating with the criminal
investigation and the effort to freeze the assets of Saudi entities
that may be supporting terrorism. But there is deep unease,
especially among the uniformed military, that the Saudis are
constraining the American mission in the Persian Gulf and that
American commanders are discussing a possible shrinkage of the
military presence in Saudi Arabia.

      On the Saudi side, Saudis said in interviews that they
expected support from the United States and instead felt that they
had been isolated and branded as terrorists.

      Saudi Arabia could be the next target of a terror attack,
Saudi military officials have told their American counterparts, if
both nations appear to be too closely aligned militarily and if the
crisis between Israel and Palestinians worsens.

      Unwavering support for the Palestinians, despite recent
Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians, is voiced by all
levels of society, from government officials and university
professors to shopkeepers and teenagers.

      Prince Nawwaf said his office had conducted the survey about
terrorism "to know about the feeling towards bin Laden, and we can't
ignore that there is this feeling."

      The survey interviewed educated Saudi men and included
industrialists, engineers, doctors and architects, the American
official said. Although the official added that it had not been done
scientifically, the level of support has surprised both American and
Saudi officials.

      Prince Nawwaf said sympathy with Mr. bin Laden's cause among
Saudis would be lower if a survey were conducted now, after the
successful American campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan,
where Mr. bin Laden's network, Al Qaeda, was based. "The feeling
would be less because since the war the people know the strong
feeling of the people of Afghanistan against the Taliban," he said.

      Prince Nawwaf did not respond directly to questions about
whether there were Qaeda terrorist cells inside the kingdom. But he
reiterated Saudi Arabia's opposition to any military expansion of
the American terrorist campaign to other countries.

      He said an American military operation to overthrow President
Saddam Hussein of Iraq "is not going to damage Saddam Hussein,"
adding: "It will only give Saddam more credit. Perhaps someone is
telling you you will finish off Saddam. No, Saddam will be waiting
for you."

      Even Mr. Hussein's overthrow would not increase regional
stability, he said. "If you succeed, you will divide Iraq into three
parts," he said. Iraq would be splintered into a Shiite Muslim-run
government in the south, a Kurdish-run government in the north and a
Sunni-Muslim run government in the center, he said, adding, "I don't
think America will support that."

      He made no criticism of the American military presence here,
but said: "Who said this about ending the military presence? You
never heard this from Saudi Arabia."

      But he warned the United States not to abuse the friendship or
Saudi hospitality that allows the United States to have a military
presence but not a permanent base here.

      "Some days you say you want to attack Iraq, some days Somalia,
some days Lebanon, some days Syria," he said. "Who do you want to
attack? All the Arab world? And you want us to support that? It's
impossible. It's impossible."

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