Saudi Ambassador Encourages US in Middle East ; Bandar Urges UN Security Guarantees for WMD-Free Nations in Region

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In only his second appearance before the news media since Sept. 11, 2001, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States encouraged sustained US involvement in the Middle East especially in Iraq and between Israel and the Palestinians.

The message that America is still seen by the Saudis as indispensable to the region comes amid a period of strained relations with Washington - among the most tense in Prince Bandar bin Sultan's 20 years as ambassador. A period that has witnessed the withdrawal of US forces from the kingdom and a private class-action lawsuit against royal officials by 9/11 survivors and relatives.

"We believe part of the objective of the terrorists and the evil people who [carried out the attacks] was Saudi-American relations that they wanted destroyed," said Mr. Bandar, speaking at a news conference at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. "They failed, but it's scary how close they got to succeeding."

The ambassador laid blame for the rocky relations on a Congress "that has a particular agenda entering what I call your silly season" of elections as well as "a lot of garbage" reports in the media.

Regarding one particular report in The Washington Times Wednesday, Bandar again denied that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have struck an oil-for-nukes deal. Far from trying to obtain weapons of mass destruction, Riyadh has been lobbying for a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, he said. Under such a proposal, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council would give a protection guarantee to any nation without weapons of mass destruction in the region.

In the region, only Israel is believed to have nuclear weapons, but Iran may be developing them as well.

"This is the kind of international cooperation after the cold war that will have real impact on the disarmament of the world," Bandar said.

The WMD-free-Mideast proposal suggests that, despite the removal of US troops from Saudi soil following the fall of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, the kingdom still looks to outside powers for security assistance. …