The Bush administration has determined that Saudi
Arabia achieved progress in stopping logistical, financial and moral support
to Al Qaida. But some senators have their doubts.
The administration has concluded that Riyad has reduced financing to Al
Qaida and related groups. In addition, officials said, Saudi authorities
have also curbed extremist clerics and recalled textbooks found
objectionable by the United States.
The administration's assessment was reported in a Senate hearing late
last month, Middle East Newsline reported. James Oberwetter, President George Bush's nominee to become the
next U.S. ambassador to Riyad, reviewed Saudi Arabia's record in its war on
Al Qaida during testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"I think the Saudis now begin to understand, especially after the
incidents of May 12, that this is not a problem that exists just for the
United States or just for the West, but they have this problem too,"
Oberwetter said the change in Saudi policy began after the Al Qaida
suicide attacks against a Western compound in Riyad in May. Since that
attack, Oberwetter said, Saudi intelligence cooperation with Washington has
"That tells me that we are getting better at discerning problems ahead of
time, and that is a vast improvement over where we've been before," the
administration's nominee said.
Senators at the hearing expressed skepticism regarding the
administration's assessment of the Saudi fight against Al Qaida. Some of the
senators argued that the kingdom has made little progress in human rights or
freedom of religion.
Oberwetter agreed. He said as ambassador he would encourage Riyad to
respect religions other than Islam.
"Freedom of religion as we know it does not exist, and participation even
by some sects of Islam is not allowed," Oberwetter said. "We need to
continue to engage in dialogue with the Saudis and discuss with them the
opportunities for freedom of religion."
A Texas oil lobbyist, Oberwetter also said the kingdom has increased
oversight over Islamic charities. He said authorities have removed charity
boxes from mosques.