Congress considering sanctions for Saudis

Tuesday, December 2, 2003

Congress plans to examine legislation that would impose a U.S. weapons ban on Saudi Arabia.

The bill has been termed the Saudi Accountability Act 2003 and resembles the legislation imposing sanctions on Syria, which was passed by Congress in November.

The Saudi bill sets a series of U.S. demands on Riyad to end its support for groups deemed as terrorist and presses the kingdom to cooperate with the United States in the war against Al Qaida and its allies.

The bill said Saudi Arabia has relayed $4 billion to Hamas since 2000. The kingdom has not denied providing money to Hamas, but said the funding comes from individual Saudis rather than the government, Middle East Newsline reported.

The bill has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican and a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Rep. Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat, has introduced a similar bill in the House of Representatives.

"Evidence has come to light that there has been enormous financing of Al Qaida, Hamas and other terrorist organizations by the Saudis," Specter said.

"Anybody who contributes to an organization knowing that it is a terrorist organization is really an accessory before-the-fact to murder."

The Saudi Accountability Act, introduced on Nov. 18, would require the president to certify annually that Saudi Arabia has been cooperating with the United States in a range of areas. Failure to comply would mean a ban on U.S. defense and dual-use exports to Riyad.

Saudi Arabia has been the biggest military client of the United States. Industry analysts expect Riyad to increase military purchases from Washington to $7.3 billion annually over the next three years.

Under the bill introduced in the Senate, the president must certify that Saudi Arabia is fully cooperating with the United States in "investigating and preventing terrorist attacks; has permanently closed all Saudi-based terror organizations; has ceased funding or other support by Saudi Arabia for any offshore terror organization; and has exercised maximum efforts to block all funding from private Saudi citizens and entities to offshore terrorist organizations." The president could also seek a waiver of U.S. sanctions if he deems this a U.S. national security interest.

Cosponsors of the Senate bill include Senators Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat, and Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat.

The bill would also restrict travel of Saudi diplomats to a a radius of 40 kilometers from which their offices are located. The travel restrictions would apply to the Saudi embassy in Washington, the Saudi United Nations mission in New York and consulates located in Houston and Los Angeles.

Congressional sources said the bill is unlikely to pass or signed by President George Bush. But they said Specter's bill reflects growing dismay both in Congress and the administration over Saudi policy.

For its part, Saudi Arabia has expressed concern over the bill. The state-controlled Saudi media have attributed the legislation to what they termed the Zionist lobby in Congress.

"Several U.S. congressmen who support the global Zionist movement and the Israeli aggression policies against the Arab nation attempt every so often to convince the U.S. administration to issue decisions against the kingdom," the Saudi daily Al Yawm said on Monday. "For example, they proposed to ask Riyad for official certification in which it confirms the kingdom is fighting terrorism and pledges complete cooperation with the United States in its war against terrorism."

Since August, the FBI, in an operation approved by the National Security Council, has launched what officials termed an unprecedented investigation into Saudi funding in the United States. The FBI investigation has included subpoenas of dozens of bank accounts that belong to the Saudi embassy in Washington.

The Saudi embassy spends about $300 million a year in the United States to promote the Wahabi interpretation of Islam. The Saudi funding distributed Wahabi teachings on the need for jihad, or holy war, against the West.

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