Sat, Dec 10, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Saudi Arabia's new ambassador talks on US, Middle East


The US-led war in Iraq accelerated the spread of terrorism around the globe and reports of US mistreatment of terror prisoners are troubling its allies, the new Saudi ambassador to Washington said.

In a wide-ranging interview with US reporters on Thursday, Prince Turki bin al-Faisal also said he thinks Osama bin Laden may no longer be in charge of al-Qaeda, called Israel's decision to pull out of the Gaza Strip a "remarkable achievement" and said his country has concerns that Iran is meddling in the establishment of an Iraqi government.

Asked whether the war in Iraq made the world less safe, Turki said even if the US had not invaded, global terrorism would have continued.

"Going into Iraq may have accentuated or accelerated that process, but I don't think it is the reason why we are having bombs in London or in Saudi Arabia or wherever," he said.

Turki's comments come as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice concludes a European tour where she has faced daily questions about US detention and interrogation policies.

That has included criticism of secret CIA prisons and "renditions" in which intelligence operatives grab terror suspects and deliver them to their home countries or another where they are wanted for a crime.

Turki, a former director of the Saudi intelligence service, said his country has never accepted any renditions or served as an interrogation or holding point for the US.

In its annual report on human rights worldwide, the US State Department called Saudi Arabia's human rights' record "poor overall," despite some progress.

It said Saudi security forces "continue to abuse detainees and prisoners, arbitrarily arrest and hold persons in incommunicado detention."

Turki said five or six Saudis have been released from the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and more than 100 still remain there. Discussions about their release are continuing, he added.

The ambassador said he does not have any specific information about whether any Saudis held by the US have been mistreated, beyond what he reads in news reports.

"The US for much of mankind has always stood as an example of ... due process, human rights, innocent before proven guilty," Turki said. "If any of these precepts and principles are flouted by the promoter ... then that affects all of us."

In July, Prince Bandar bin Sultan announced his resignation after 22 years as Saudi ambassador to Washington. Turki recently arrived in Washington to fill the position.

On Iraq, Turki said he, too, was surprised that weapons of mass destruction were not found there, given former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's ambitions.

"We were all assuming that he was working toward acquiring the means for weapons of mass destruction, but there were no specifics," he said.

While Turki described Saudi Arabia's relations with Iran positively, he said the Iraqis report "increased interference" from Iran as they establish their government, including the takeover of village councils and intimidation in the election process.

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