Lobbyist warns lawsuit will damage U.S.-Saudi strategic ties

Friday, August 15, 2003

An affadavit submitted by a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia said a multi-trillion dollar lawsuit by the families of the September 11 victims against leading members of the Saudi royal family and Saudi industrialists would damage military and security cooperation between Riyad and Washington.

The affidavit said the lawsuit would also affect U.S. hopes to renew weapons sales with the Saudi kingdom.

"It would aid and abet those within the kingdom, including not a few in the ruling Al Saud, who argue that their country should now end its longstanding cooperation with the United States," Chas Freeman Jr., former U.S. ambassador and director of the Middle East Policy Council, said in a 15-page affidavit filed in U.S. district court in Washington D.C.

Freeman has been a leading lobbyist for Saudi Arabia. His institution is said to be financed by the Saudi kingdom and oil interests, Middle East Newsline reported.

Saudi Arabia's last major military procurement was in 2000 when it bought $2.7 billion worth of missiles and other aircraft systems from the United States. Riyad has not purchased a military aircraft from the United States since 1995, when the Saudi Air Force procured 72 F-15S fighter-jets.

The Congressional Research Service reported that Saudi military purchases were $1.7 billion from 1998 until 2001. Saudi military procurement from 1994 to 1997 was $12.4 billion.

"I think we all are aware that there are people who don't put high value on our maintaining a close relationship with Saudi, a need for Saudi oil, or the need for bases; maybe that's all gone and been replaced by this great new relationship we're going to have with and in Iraq," Judith Yaphe, a Middle East expert for the National Defense University, told a recent Middle East Council forum.

The affadavit was submitted by attorneys for Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz and appears to represent an effort to prevent the suit from being heard in open court. The affadavit has been preceded by several messages from Riyad to the Bush administration warning of the lawsuit, which charges leading Saudis with financing Al Qaida.

Leading members of the Saudi ruling family have expressed similar warnings regarding a congressional report on the Sept. 11, 2001 suicide attacks by Al Qaida. The report, much of which has been censored, contains a section that details Saudi involvement in the Al Qaida strikes.

"The executive branch cannot credibly proclaim Saudi Arabia a friend and partner in the struggle against terrorism while the judicial branch simultaneously declares its government a menace," Freeman said in the affadavit.

The warning by Freeman has been echoed by U.S. oil and defense contractors. Industry sources said oil contractors have complained of Saudi inflexibility in canceling a $30 billion project to develop the kingdom's natural gas sector. U.S. companies, such as ExxonMobil and Conoco, found that the Saudi terms did not ensure an acceptable rate of return for their investment.

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