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Saudis Carefully Edging Away from United States
Ties are seriously fraying between the Saudi royals and the Bush administration, largely because the Saudis appear to have abandoned any pretext of confronting terrorism and instead have returned full bore to the long-held tradition of co-opting or buying opponents.

One would hope, albeit in vain, that recent developments would end the happy talk of our Saudi allies in fighting Islamist terrorism and terrorist ideologies and theologies.

As the Washington Post's Jim Hoagland noted, the most obvious sign of the change of heart, which many of us argued was at best skin deep, was King Abdullah's decision to cancel his scheduled April 17 state dinner. Explanations have been vague as to why.

Then yesterday the king lashed out at the U.S. occupation of Iraq, for the first time calling it "illegitimate." While there are many who believe that to be true, the timing of the statement, after several years of saying nothing nearly as strong, is indicative of the change. It is also noteworthy that the king chose to make the attack at a meeting of Arab heads of state, not just to his own people or in a lesser forum, but in forum that would garner the maximum media exposure.

Saudi Arabia has recently reasserted itself by brokering the Fatah-Hamas, hosting the Iranian president and threatening to arm the Sunni insurgents in Iraq.

This seems to me to be a reversion to true Saudi form, as their hearts have never been in the U.S.-led, sporadic efforts to encourage confrontation with _jihadists_ and the _wahhabi_ clergy. The governing system is simply too intertwined with the _wahhabist_ stream of insular, aggressive and violent Islam to make a break and survive.

Saudi Arabia has also apparently moved to rehabilitate even the few terrorist financiers it agreed to designate, notably Wael Julaidan, an al Qaeda founder. He is apparently now under no restrictions at all, and is free to work, speak and write as he sees fit.

I remember a conversation I had with Adel al-Juber, the current Saudi ambassador to the U.S., when Julaidan was designated. He insisted that the Saudi government would take care of terrorist financiers in "culturally appropriate ways," not necessarily trying them or sending them to prison. I guess the culture has a high tolerance for well-connected money raisers for terrorist organizations.

My sources who work there say there is also a concerted Saudi government effort to get several other prominent Saudis such as Yassin Qadi, off the UN and US designation lists. So far, the efforts have been unsuccessful, but the Saudis have deep pockets with which to buy many friends.

All of this should give the Bush administration a chance for a far more realistic Saudi policy than what it has developed to date. The chances of this, like the chances of the Saudis really changing their theology, are minimal.
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