The US House of Representatives has voted to deny all aid to Saudi Arabia, despite repeated assurances by the administration the desert kingdom was cooperating with the US in the war on terror.
The ban is contained in a little-publicized amendment quietly slipped by a bipartisan group of lawmakers into a US$34.2 billion bill financing US foreign operations in fiscal 2008.
The massive bill, featuring a wide range of humanitarian programs, was approved by lawmakers in the middle of the night on Friday.
Similar measures on aid to Saudi Arabia have been passed by the House before. But the current one goes a step further by closing a legislative loophole that in the past had allowed the administration of US President George W. Bush to waive these bans by invoking requirements of the war on terror.
The amendment, championed by New York Democrat Anthony Weiner, a strong supporter of Israel, states that "none of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available" by the foreign operations bill "shall be obligated or expended to finance any assistance to Saudi Arabia" or "used to execute a waiver."
While oil-rich Saudi Arabia has never been a large recipient of US aid, the Bush administration channeled a total of more than US$2.5 million to the kingdom in fiscal 2005 and 2006 as part of their partnership in the war on terror, congressional officials said.
Neither Saudi diplomats nor administration officials have publicly commented on the vote.
However, the sponsors of the amendment made it clear they were particularly upset by what they described as Saudi Arabia's support for the militant Palestinian group Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel and has just taken control of the Gaza Strip.
In a fact sheet released to the media, the lawmakers pointed out that Hamas was receiving more than 50 percent of its financing from Saudi Arabia, and in May last year alone, the Saudi government planned to send US$300 million to the Islamist group.
Weiner charged that Riyadh was in fact actively working against US interests.
"By cutting off aid and closing the loophole we send a clear message to the Saudi Arabian government that they must be a true ally in advancing peace in the Middle East," he said.
The sponsors of the measure also accused the Saudi government of undermining US military efforts in Iraq by making "no official move" to stop about 3,000 Saudi nationals actively fighting US troops in the country.
They said Sheik Saleh al-Liuhaidan, head of the Saudi Arabian judiciary, had approved the transfer of money and men to Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the now slain head of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
As many as 61 percent of all suicide bombers in Iraq are of Saudi Arabian descent, the fact sheet claimed.
The lawmakers also argued that Saudi clerics continued to preach hate towards the US, Israel and their allies, while the government cracked down against those calling for democratic reforms.
"By continuing to promote and finance acts of terrorism, including those targeting innocent families, the Saudis are actively undermining our efforts to promote democracy and bring stability to the Middle East," said Representative Shelley Berkley, a Democrat and another sponsor of the ban.
She insisted that the US should not be rewarding Saudi Arabia for what she called "their record of broken promises and disturbing terrorist ties."
Saudi Arabia is a leading source of imported oil for the US, often providing about 20 percent of total US crude imports, according to State Department statistics. It is also the largest US export market in the Middle East.
The State Department describes Saudi Arabia as "an important partner in the campaign against terrorism, providing assistance in the military, diplomatic, and financial arenas."
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