U.S. threatens to abandon Saudis and their oil

Monday, June 21, 2004

The United States has sent a tough message to Saudi Arabia that did not rule out abandoning the kingdom's oil sector.

U.S. officials said the Bush administration has warned that Americans would not stay in Saudi Arabia unless the kingdom takes significant steps to protect them. The officials said the warning came in wake of the Al Qaida beheading of Lockheed Martin engineer Paul Johnson on June 18.

Fewer than 30,000 Americans live in Saudi Arabia, with many of them working in the defense and oil sectors. More than 5,000 Americans were said to have left the kingdom over the last year and many more were said to planning to leave for the summer.

"It could have an effect [on the Saudi oil industry]," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "Saudi authorities, as commendable as their overall effort is, have not yet been able to stop the terrorists to the point that everybody doesn't have to worry anymore."

U.S. officials said despite its assurances, the Saudi government has not carried out a comprehensive upgrade in efforts to protect U.S. nationals in the kingdom. They said many Saudi-owned companies have failed to take significant steps to protect their facilities and Americans from Al Qaida attacks.

On June 20, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. Richard Lugar issued the most specific warning to Riyad. Lugar, a Republican close to Secretary of State Colin Powell, said that unless Saudi Arabia provides better protection to Americans "they're in deep trouble with regard to the oil business."

FBI and State Department counterterrorism experts have been in Saudi Arabia helping authorities track Al Qaida insurgents. The U.S. team was said to have been instrumental in the operation that tracked and killed Al Qaida chief Abdul Aziz Al Muqrin and three of his aides on June 18.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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