U.S. ambassador steps on royal toes in Saudi Arabia

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States have turned tense over the issue of royal succession in the Saudi kingdom.

Saudi opposition sources said Riyad had demanded the expulsion of U.S. ambassador Robert Jordan after he publicly sided with the pro-U.S. contender for the throne who backs limits on the influence of Islamic clerics.

The remarks were said to have angered Defense Minister Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz, the chief rival of Abdullah who has lobbied for the position of crown prince. Over the last two years, Sultan opposed Abdullah's policy of reducing the influence of the Islamic clergy and maintaining strong defense relations with the United States, Middle East Newsline reported.

The Washington-based Saudi Information Agency reported that Jordan was asked to leave the kingdom soon after he discussed the succession issue at two dinner receptions in the spring of 2003 attended by senior Saudi officials.

At one reception, the Saudi opposition agency said, Jordan said the United States has decided to support Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Aziz as the next Saudi monarch. But the ambassador said the next crown prince would not come from Abdullah's brothers. Instead, Jordan said, the successor to Abdullah would come from what he termed the "third generation," or the sons of Abdullah or his brothers.

In early September, the United States withdrew the last of its combat forces from the Prince Sultan Air Base, ending a 13-year military presence in the kingdom. The U.S. military has decided to maintain about 500 advisers to help train the Saudi National Guard, commanded by Abdullah.

The remarks by Jordan were published in an Arabic-language newspaper in London in July. The report prompted Sultan and his allies to demand the expulsion of Jordan from the kingdom.

The State Department has not announced Jordan's future. Jordan was appointed by President George Bush and served two years in the kingdom.

"The termination might have been discussed during ambiguous meetings between Saudi ambassador to Washington, Bandar Bin Sultan, and former President George Bush on August 27th -- in Kennebunkport, Maine, in his vacation home, and Vice President Dick Cheney August 28th at his ranch in Wyoming," the Saudi agency, which has published accurate reports on the kingdom, said. "Cheney and Bush senior are close friends and business associates of Jordan."

Jordan could be the second ambassador expelled from Saudi Arabia. In 1988, U.S. ambassador Hume Horan was expelled after he relayed U.S. objections to the Saudi purchase of Chinese CSS2 intermediate-range missiles.

SIA said tensions between Riyad and Washington have been further exacerbated by U.S. opposition to a Saudi appointment. The agency said the United States rejected a Saudi appointment to serve as head of security at the Saudi embassy in Washington. The appointee was not named.

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