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Monday October 15 7:17 AM ET Saudi Arabia Unhappy with U.S. Raids on Afghanistan

Saudi Arabia Unhappy with U.S. Raids on Afghanistan

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Bombs Rain Down on Kabul (Associated Press)
 

By Mariam Isa

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - U.S. ally Saudi Arabia said it was unhappy about the bombing of Afghanistan (news - web sites), sending the clearest signal yet that its relations with Washington are being tested by the war on terrorism.

Interior Minister Prince Naif broke Saudi silence on the bombing late Sunday, telling reporters the kingdom opposed terrorism but did not approve of the U.S. response.

``We wish the United States had been able to flush out the terrorists in Afghanistan without resorting to the current action... because this is killing innocent people,'' he said.

``We are not at all happy with the situation. This in no way means we are not willing to confront terrorism,'' he said in remarks reported by the official Saudi Press Agency.

Analysts said that Prince Naif's public disapproval confirmed the 50-year-old strategic alliance between the world's largest industrial power and the world's largest oil supplier had come under stress since the air raids began a week ago.

``It's unbelievable the way the feeling here has changed from sympathy to anger in such a short time,'' a Western analyst based in Riyadh said.

``More sensitive and astute decision-making on both sides is required to handle a relationship which has become extremely difficult to manage. Every aspect of it is under pressure.''

Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as the world's principal advocate of pure Islam, has condemned the September 11 attacks which killed nearly 5,400 people but has remained sensitive to widespread public anger over casualties in Muslim Afghanistan.

Riyadh said early on it would not allow attacks on Afghanistan to be launched from its soil.

U.S. officials say the country is co-operating in more appropriate ways, by sharing intelligence and cracking down on funding of groups and individuals suspected of terrorist links.

``Saudi Arabia is still trying to make clear that they are willing to confront terrorism without alienating their own population,'' a western diplomat in Riyadh said Sunday.

U.S. troops have been based in the kingdom since U.S.-led forces evicted Iraq from Saudi Arabia's neighbor Kuwait in 1991, albeit as only a small and discreet force nowadays.

Some religious leaders in the birthplace of Islam have strong objections to their presence. So does Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden (news - web sites), Washington's main suspect for last month's attacks, who is hiding in Afghanistan.

MANY ADMIRE BIN LADEN

It is impossible to tell how many Saudis want the Americans to leave Saudi Arabia. But it is clear many people admire bin Laden for his role in driving the Soviets from Afghanistan years ago and do not believe he masterminded last month's attacks.

U.S. high-tech attacks on one of the poorest countries in the world are viewed here as arrogant and insensitive.

``The message appears to be 'see how great our toys are, watch them smash things to smithereens' -- it seems we have learned nothing in 10 years,'' the Western analyst said.

Saudis feel they have been unfairly singled out because the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has said that 12 of the 19 suspected hijackers which slammed hijacked commercial airliners into buildings in New York and Washington were Saudis.

Many of the people it originally identified were later shown to be either living in the kingdom or dead, officials say.

There has been no public U.S. apology and media have reported in detail on harassment of Saudis in America.

A final episode rubbed salt in wounded Saudi pride in the past week.

Saudis have been outraged by the rejection of a $10 million donation by Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal to victims of the collapse of the World Trade Center. Most Americans saw it as an error of judgement by the kingdom.

Alwaleed's check was shunned because of his criticism of U.S. Middle East policy during a trip to New York. New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (news - web sites) said Alwaleed's remarks appeared to be an attempt to justify the attack.

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