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The Complete Saudi Primer

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The Complete Saudi Primer
"It's a strong and important friendship." (White House Photo)

Michael Moore's new movie, Fahrenheit 9/11, delves into the relationship between the Bush dynasty and the House of Saud. Follow along with this guide to everything you always wanted to know about the Bush-Saudi connection but were afraid to ask.

SAUDI ARABIA
Under the Influence
9/11
The Saudi Connection
BANKING
The Bush-Riggs Connection

Under the Sand

As a presidential candidate in 2000, then-Gov. George W. Bush promised that, if elected, he would use the full weight of the White House to pressure oil-producing countries to increase production if there was a gas-price crisis. He charged, "The president of the United States must jawbone OPEC members to lower the price" and promised that as president he would "convince them to open up the spigot to increase the supply." Yet, when Saudi Arabia led the fight within OPEC last month to cut production and raise prices, the president "refused to lean on the oil cartel" and refused to even "personally lobby OPEC leaders to change their minds." Now, with esteemed journalist Bob Woodward reporting that the Bush administration and top Saudi officials agreed to manipulate oil prices in conjunction with the 2004 election, President Bush's passivity towards Saudi Arabia is raising disturbing questions. Why won't the administration exert serious pressure on the regime both on oil and terrorism policy? Why does the president continue to refer to Saudi Arabia as "our friend" when the country has potential ties to the 9/11 terrorists? Why, as author Daniel Benjamin reported, did the administration weaken efforts to scrutinize potential Saudi money-laundering schemes before 9/11? A look at the president's "deep personal ties with Saudi officials" – and his financial connections to the Saudi royal family and powerful Saudi businessmen – may provide clues.

BUSH'S PERSONAL FINANCIAL TIES TO SAUDIS RUN DEEP: According to various sources, Bush has been awash in Saudi money for years. Journalist/author Craig Unger in his new book "House of Bush, House of Saud" traced millions "in investments and contracts that went from the Saudis over the past 20 years to companies in which the Bushes and their allies have had prominent positions – Harken Energy, Halliburton, and the Carlyle Group among them." According to the Boston Herald, that includes a $1 million gift from Prince Bandar to the Bush Presidential Library in Texas.

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WAS BCCI'S INDICTED PRINCIPAL A BUSH BUSINESS BACKER?: Author Kevin Phillips, a top Republican strategist under President Nixon, reported in his new book, "Bush made his first connection in the late 1970s with James Bath, a Texas businessmen who served as the North American representative for two rich Saudis (and Osama bin Laden relatives) – billionaire Salem bin Laden and banker and BCCI insider Khalid bin Mahfouz. Bath put $50,000 into Bush's 1979 Arbusto oil partnership, probably using bin Laden-bin Mahfouz funds." Also of interest: Former CIA Director James Woolsey testified to the Senate on 9/3/98 that Mafouz's sister was married to Osama bin Laden. And according to the conservative American Spectator, "Bush has given conflicting statements about Bath's investment in Arbusto, finally admitting to the Wall Street Journal that he was aware that Bath represented Saudi investors."

BUSH CAMPAIGN TIES TO THE SAUDIS: A 12/11/01 Boston Herald report found that "a powerful Washington, D.c=, law firm with unusually close ties to the White House has earned hefty fees representing controversial Saudi billionaires as well as a Texas-based Islamic charity fingered last week as a terrorist front." The influential law firm of Akin, Gump, whose partners "include one of President Bush's closest Texas friends, James C. Langdon, and Bush fundraiser George R. Salem," has represented three wealthy Saudi businessmen – BCCI's Mahfouz, Mohammed Hussein Al-Amoudi and Salah Idris – "who have been scrutinized by U.S. authorities for possible involvement in financing Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network."

WHY THESE TIES ARE IMPORTANT: Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, told the Boston Herald "that these intricate personal and financial links have led to virtual silence in the administration on Saudi Arabia's failings in dealing with terrorists like bin Laden" and in oil policy. He said, "It's good old fashioned 'I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine.' You have former U.S. officials, former presidents, aides to the current president, a long line of people who are tight with the Saudis, people who are the pillars of American society and officialdom. So for that and other reasons no one wants to alienate the Saudis, and we are willing to basically ignore inconvenient truths that might otherwise cause our blood to boil. We basically look away. Folks don't like to stop the gravy train."

As President Bush today squeezes in a visit to a 9/11 memorial as part of a fundraising trip, his Administration is coming under increasing pressure to explain its close relationship with a "Saudi government that not only provided significant money and aid to the suicide hijackers but also allowed potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to flow to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups." Just yesterday, Newsday reported the family of the FBI's late counterterrorism chief who was killed in the 9/11 attacks "filed lawsuits Wednesday accusing Saudi Arabia of aiding terrorists worldwide." And today, an explosive excerpt from the new book "House of Bush, House of Saud" examines how top White House officials orchestrated the post-9/11 exodus of Osama bin Laden's relatives before U.S. law enforcement officers could ask them for critical details about the Al Qaeda leader and his terror network. Meanwhile, Time Magazine reports "the Saudis still appear to be protecting charities associated with the royal family" which funnel money to terrorists. And yet, despite all this, President Bush has continued to praise Saudi Arabia, has invited Saudi government leaders to his Crawford mansion, and in general is far "cozier than most [Presidents] to Riyadh." As Vanity Fair noted, "the Bush-Saudi relationship raises serious questions, if only because it is so extraordinary for two presidents to share such a long and rich personal history with any foreign power" – especially one that has been so closely implicated in the 9/11 attacks. And despite the calls to get tough, Time Magazine concludes that the Administration's all-too-close ties to the Saudi royal family makes "it seem unlikely that the Bush Administration will adopt a tougher policy toward Riyadh."

BEFORE 9/11 – WHAT WAS KNOWN ABOUT THE SAUDIS: According to U.S. News, a 1996 CIA report found that a third of the 50 Saudi-backed charities it studied "were tied to terrorist groups." Similarly, a 1998 report by the National Security Council had identified the Saudi government as "the epicenter" of terrorist financing, becoming "the single greatest force in spreading Islamic fundamentalism" and "funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to jihad groups and al Qaeda cells around the world." Over the past decade, "al Qaeda and its fellow jihadists collected between $300 million and $500 million – most of it from Saudi charities and private donors" and the very "origins of al Qaeda are intimately bound up with the Saudi charities." At the same time, these Al Qaeda-Saudi government ties were strengthening, U.S. "inquiries about bin Laden went unanswered by Riyadh. When Hezbollah terrorists killed 19 U.S. troops with a massive truck bomb at Khobar Towers in Dhahran in 1996, Saudi officials stonewalled, then shut the FBI out of the investigation."

BEFORE 9/11 – STRENGTHENED BUSH-SAUDI TIES: Despite the clear ties to terror, the Bush Administration maintained and strengthened its ties to the Saudi government upon taking office. As the Boston Herald reported, a "revolving U.S.-Saudi money wheel" exists "within President Bush's own coterie of foreign policy advisers." First and foremost, the current President's father "remains a senior adviser to the Carlyle Group" – an investment bank with deep connections to the Saudi royal family, and received $1 million for his Presidential library from the royal family. George W. Bush "himself is also linked" to the Saudi-backed Carlyle Group: he was a director of a Carlyle subsidiary called called Caterair. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice "is a former longtime member of the board of Chevron which did business in the Saudi desert." And Vice President Cheney's tenure as CEO of oil giant Halliburton was among his dealings with "firms connected to the Saudis that paid big dividends."

BEFORE 9/11 – APPOINTING A CRONY INSTEAD OF A DIPLOMAT: With the Saudis' ties to terror clear, the Administration refused to appoint a qualified diplomat or counterterrorism expert as the U.S. government's ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Instead, the President appointed his Texas crony Robert Jordan – a man with no diplomatic experience, who spoke no Arabic and who had never set foot in Saudi Arabia. Jordan's chief qualification for the post was that he had been Bush's lawyer during the SEC inquiry into the Harken energy scandal, was part of the legal team representing the president in Florida during the 2000 election. He also worked at the law firm Baker-Botts, which is headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, a man who has considerable ties to the Saudi government, and who continues to tout Saudi Arabia as "an ally and friend of the United States for as long as I can remember." Even after Jordan retired earlier this year, the Administration still refused to appoint a diplomatic/counter-terrorism expert, instead appointing Texas oil lobbyist James Oberwetter.

AFTER 9/11 – WHITE HOUSE FLIES BIN LADENS OUT OF AMERICA: In the immediate wake of 9/11, all flights in the United States were grounded. But as the new book "House of Bush, House of Saud" notes in its first excerpts on Salon.com, the flight ban had one exception: the Saudi relatives of Osama bin Laden. As Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged, members of bin Laden's family were put on flights that "were coordinated within the U.S. government" and allowed to go back to Saudi Arabia. According to the excerpt and to Gerald Posner's "Why America Slept," the White House-authorized flights out of the United States also included Saudi Prince Ahmed, who a top Al Qaeda terrorist said "knew beforehand that an attack was scheduled for American soil" on 9/11. The White House's decision to allow the Saudis to leave came at the same time Vanity Fair notes "Arabs were being rounded up and interrogated" all over the country and Attorney General John Ashcroft was asserting that the government had "a responsibility to use every legal means at our disposal to prevent further terrorist activity by taking people into custody who have violated the law and who may pose a threat to America." Law enforcement officers were asking why these family members – some of whom had direct ties to Osama bin Laden – were allowed to leave and wondered "how could officials bypass such an elemental and routine part of an investigation during an unprecedented national-security catastrophe? At the very least, wouldn't relatives have been able to provide some information about Osama's finances, associates, or supporters?"

AFTER 9/11 – WHITE HOUSE ASSAILED FOR GIVING PASS TO SAUDIS: In the year following the 9/11 attacks, Fox News reported lawmakers investigating the Sept. 11 attacks believe the Administration "has not aggressively pursued the possibility that the Saudi government provided money to students who helped two of the hijackers." Congressional committees also "accused the Saudi government of not fully cooperating with American investigators" but faced a strong defense from the White House. Bush Communications Director Dan Bartlett "disputed congressional critics" saying "As anyone who knows this issue will tell you, it's very difficult to track financing of terrorist networks because most of it is done in cash."

AFTER 9/11 – CLASSIFYING INCRIMINATING EVIDENCE: In 2003, more and more evidence began to appear tying the Saudi royal family to the attacks. For instance, Newsweek reported that thousands of dollars in charitable gifts from Princess Haifa, the wife of Prince Bandar, "ended up in the hands of two of the September 11 hijackers." Yet, as congressional committees prepared to release a bipartisan report on the 9/11 attacks, the Bush Administration swiftly moved to classify a section of the report which dealt with the Saudi ties to the attack. According to CBS News, that section "examined interactions between Saudi businessmen and the royal family that may have intentionally or unwittingly aided al Qaeda or the suicide hijackers." Not surprisingly, months after 9/11 Vice President Cheney went on Fox News to announce the Administration's full opposition to an independent 9/11 commission.

AFTER 9/11 – STILL PRAISING THE SAUDIS WHILE THEY REFUSE TO COOPERATE: President Bush has simultaneously repeated a mantra that "if you aid a terrorist, if you hide terrorists, you're just as guilty as the terrorists" while also going "out of his way to compliment the Saudis." While the President says the Saudis are an "important friend" to the United States, the royal family "refuses to permit United States investigators to interrogate one of bin Laden's key financial aides-Sidi Tayyib" a man who "probably knows as much as anyone else about bin Laden's intricate financial empire." Meanwhile, officials at the Treasury and Justice departments have privately expressed deep frustration over the failure of the Saudi government to impose stricter controls over their Islamic charities and turn over crucial evidence about the murky flow of money to Al Qaeda.

The decision last week by federal regulators to fine Riggs Bank $25 million for a "willful, systemic" violation of anti-money-laundering laws is raising new questions about whether the Bush administration's ties to powerful moneyed interests is unduly influencing U.S. foreign and national security policy. Riggs Bank is headed by longtime Bush family friend Joe Allbritton, employs President Bush's uncle Jonathan as a top executive, and other executives have been financial donors to the Bush campaign. The bank is at the center of a controversy, according to the Wall Street Journal, for failing to monitor "tens of millions of dollars in cash withdrawals from accounts related to the Saudi Arabian and Equatorial Guinean embassy," including "suspicious incidents involving dozens of sequentially numbered cashier's checks and international drafts written by Saudi officials, including Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan." Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) "said members of the bank's board of directors should be held to account for failing to exercise their watchdog role over Riggs's operations" and said refusal to follow money laundering laws "allows terrorists to funnel their blood money through the system."

CONNECTION – JONATHAN BUSH AND RIGGS: Jonathan Bush, President Bush's uncle, was appointed CEO of Riggs Bank's investment arm in May of 2000, just months after his nephew secured the nomination for the presidency. At the time of the appointment, Jonathan Bush had already become a major financial backer of his nephew, rising to "Bush Pioneer" status by raising more than $100,000 for his nephew in 2000. The move solidified the relationship between Jonathan Bush and Riggs, which was originally initiated in 1997 when, according to American Banker newsletter, Riggs paid Bush $5.5 million for his smaller investment firm. That transaction, according to the NYT, "deepened [Riggs's] links to the Bushes." While Riggs denies any connection between Bush and the accounts being investigated in the money laundering probe, Riggs President Timothy Lex told the Washington Times in 1997 that "there's a blurring of distinctions between banks, mutual-fund families, broker dealers and everything else across the board."

CONNECTION – ALLBRITTON-BUSH LINK: Allbritton, who said during the federal probe that he was stepping down from Riggs's board, also was close to the Bush family. As the NYT reported, he (along with Riggs client Saudi Prince Bandar) was a financial backer of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, with National Journal noting he contributed between $100,000 – $250,000 to the project. And there also appears to be a personal bond with the current President Bush: As the 2/15/01 WP noted, "When President Bush climbed out of his limousine on Inauguration Day at the corner of 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, he spotted Allbritton, waved and said, 'Hey Joe, how are you doing?'" That might have something to do with the fact that, according to the 11/7/2000 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Allbritton-owned TV station KATV in Little Rock broke 39 years of precedent and publicly endorsed Bush in the 2000 presidential election. The station, which is the biggest in the state, proceeded to air its endorsement 10 times throughout Arkansas, and refused to give equal time to Democrats "who asked for the time to present an alternative to the station's endorsement."

ACTION – LOOSENING BANKING REGS THAT COULD AFFECT RIGGS: According to Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon's "Age of Sacred Terror," upon taking office the Bush administration tried to halt efforts to tighten international banking laws – some of which may have affected Riggs. As he notes, the new Bush Treasury Department "disapproved of the Clinton administration's approach to money laundering issues, which had been an important part of the drive to cut off the money flow to bin Laden." Specifically, the Bush administration opposed Clinton administration-backed efforts by the G-7 and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that targeted countries with "loose banking regulations" being abused by terrorist financiers. Meanwhile, the Bush administration provided "no funding for the new National Terrorist Asset Tracking Center."

ACTION – HIDING INFORMATION THAT COULD BE DAMAGING TO RIGGS: Newsweek reported that checks to "two Saudi students in the United States who provided assistance to two of the September 11 hijackers" may have come "from an account at Washington's Riggs Bank in the name of Princess Haifa Al-Faisal, the wife of Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan." This, and other details, were reportedly part of the bipartisan House-Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into the Saudi money flow after 9/11. Yet, instead of allowing the committee's final report to be published in full, "Bush administration officials, led by Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller, have adamantly refused to declassify the evidence" surrounding the transactions.

ACTION – RESUMING RELATIONS WITH SORDID RIGGS CLIENT: Riggs's fines were also in relation to its business with Equatorial Guinea – the oil-rich West African country headed by brutal dictator Gen. Teodoro Obiang. As the LA Times notes, though the country's offshore oil fields "generate hundreds of millions of dollars, there are few signs of the petroleum boom" there, and the Guinean ambassador admits "the country's oil funds are held in an account at Riggs Bank" controlled by the dictator. But while the IMF and other international institutions have refused to do business with the regime until it accounts for its country's financial resources, the Bush administration "initiated a political thaw with the Obiang regime" in late 2001, "authorizing the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Equatorial Guinea, which had been closed six years earlier, in large part due to the country's horrific human rights record." The move came even though "there's been little, if any, improvement" on human rights.

MORE CONFLICTS OF INTEREST PLAGUE IRAQ POLICY: Add James Baker and Neil Bush to the list of Administration officials/cronies who have conflict-of-interest controversies swirling around them (Already ensnared in their own flaps are Vice President Cheney, Defense Department adviser Richard Perle and Pentagon official Douglas Feith). On Baker, the NYT reports that "administration officials said Mr. Baker would retain his positions at Baker Botts and the Carlyle Group while serving as the president's personal envoy" despite the fact that Baker represents Saudi Arabia (an Iraqi creditor) in his private business dealings with Carlyle and others. Chris Ullman, a Carlyle spokesman (and former spokesman for the current Bush White House) "said Mr. Baker had not personally raised money from overseas investors" but did admit that Baker "spoke at Carlyle events intended to attract investors." On Neil Bush, the Financial Times reports, "Two businessmen instrumental in setting up New Bridge Strategies, a well-connected Washington firm designed to help clients win contracts in Iraq, have previously used an association with the younger brother of President George W. Bush to seek business in the Middle East." Two top executives at the company "have maintained an important business relationship with Neil Bush stretching back several years. On several occasions, the two have attempted to exploit their association with the president's brother to help win business and investors."

INT'L POLICY: Congressman calls on White House to condemn its close ally Saudi Arabia after the country's tourism website encourages more foreign visitors, but specifically prohibits "Jewish People" from applying for visas.

SECRECY – WHAT RUMSFELD AND THE SAUDIS DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW: The White House/Saudi ties just developed another loop. According to the WP, "The Pentagon deleted from a public transcript a statement Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld made to author Bob Woodward suggesting that the administration gave Saudi Arabia a two-month heads-up that President Bush had decided to invade Iraq." On January 11, 2003, during a meeting in which "Rumsfeld and other officials were briefing [Prince Bandar bin Sultan] on a military plan to attack and invade Iraq, and pointing to a top-secret map that showed how the war plan would unfold," Rumsfeld told Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to Washington "that he could 'take that to the bank' that the invasion would happen." However, the official transcript on the DoD website scrubs out that exchange from the testimony.

IRAN-CONTRA ECHOES – SECRET DEALS WITH COUNTRY TIED TO TERROR?: The Saudi Arabian government, which has ties to terrorism yet maintains close ties to the Bush administration, continued to deny Woodward's charges that its U.S. Ambassador Prince Bandar promised an increase in oil supplies to coincide with the November presidential election to help President Bush's campaign. Mounting a Saudi defense, Saudi foreign policy adviser Adel al-Jubeir deflected the questions by claiming, "Over the past 30 years, the kingdom has sought to ensure adequate supplies of crude at moderate price levels." Of course, al-Jubeir did not explain why the Saudis had led the recent charge within OPEC to reduce oil supplies and artificially inflate the price of gasoline in the U.S. to record levels. Woodward remained steadfast in his reporting, saying the Saudi's definitely made a "pledge." He said, "over the summer or as we get closer to the election they could increase production several million barrels a day and the price would drop significantly." Author Craig Unger points to a possible motive for the alleged Saudi pledge. In his book "House of Bush, House of Saud," he says Bush presidencies "strengthen Bandar's position in Saudi Arabia. During the 12 years of the Reagan-Bush era, Bandar had enjoyed unique powers – partly because of his close relationship to Bush…But during the Clinton era, Bandar had lost clout. [He was] never an insider in the Clinton White House."

UNANSWERED – MANIPULATING OIL PRICES FOR BUSH CAMPAIGN?: Woodward also reveals that the Saudi Arabian government – the same government with potential ties to terror – "promised Bush that his country would lower oil prices before the November 2 presidential election." Woodward said Bandar specifically wanted Bush to know that the Saudis hope to "fine-tune oil prices" for the 2004 election. Recently, the Saudis led the charge to cut OPEC oil production, which has raised gas prices in America. Was that move meant to artificially raise the price, so that it could be lowered closer to the election?

WHY DID ASHCROFT ALLOW BIN LADENS TO LEAVE THE U.S. WITHOUT QUESTIONING?: Two dozen members of the bin Laden family were permitted to violate the ban on private aviation imposed after 9/11 so they could quickly return to Saudi Arabia. None of the bin Ladens were questioned by the FBI or the Justice Department before departing, even though many had direct ties to Osama bin Laden and might have provided valuable information about Osama's finances, associates and supporters.

WAR ON TERROR – WORRIED ABOUT "OUR FRIENDS": Though the Bush administration has promoted its efforts to shut down terrorist financing networks, it seems those efforts are taking a backseat to other concerns within the White House: namely, making "our friend" Saudi Arabia happy. According to the NYT, "the State Department is pressing federal bank regulators to address the inability of some foreign embassies to find banking services in the United States." The move "was primarily driven by the needs of Saudi Arabia," whose embassy accounts are at the center of a terrorist money laundering investigation at Riggs Bank, where President Bush's uncle is a top executive. Instead of pressing to further clamp down on the Saudis, a senior official said "The State Department is very concerned that the Saudis cannot find a bank." The story follows an earlier report that the Bush administration has "assigned five times as many agents to investigate Cuban embargo violations as it has to track Osama bin Laden's and Saddam Hussein's money."

BUSH PLAYS SOFTBALL WITH THE SAUDIS: In 2000, Bush promised to "jawbone" OPEC into increasing supplies in the event of a spike in gas prices. Bush said he could "convince [OPEC] to open up the spigot." But as Americans suffer under high gas prices in 2004, the President is taking a much less aggressive approach than promised. White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters that the administration is staying "in close contact with energy producers around the world." McClellan said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham would "meet with key oil producers and talk to them about the market" but he couldn't say when that meeting would occur.

HOMELAND SECURITY – RIGGS FINED FOR SAUDI ACTIVITY: "Federal banking agencies jointly imposed a near-record $25 million fine on Riggs Bank N.A. for a range of violations of money-laundering laws related to its oversight of accounts held by diplomats for two oil-rich nations." Of particular concern, Riggs failed to monitor "tens of millions of dollars in cash withdrawals from accounts related to the Saudi Arabian embassy," including "suspicious incidents involving dozens of sequentially numbered cashier's checks and international drafts written by Saudi officials, including Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan."

HOMELAND SECURITY – BUSH'S TIES TO SAUDIS UNDERMINE COUNTERTERRORISM: President Bush has engaged in strong rhetoric about cracking down on states subsidizing terror, saying on 9/10/03, "We're holding regimes accountable for harboring and supporting terror." Today, the U.S. Treasury Department designated an Islamic charity with ties to a Saudi religious organization as a terrorist entity, but, the WSJ reports, "According to current and former U.S. officials, proposals by Treasury to designate other Muslim World League bodies as terrorism supporters have been blocked by officials from other U.S. agencies." Considering the president's "deep personal ties" to the Saudis, it comes as no surprise that the Treasury's designation is only the second time since Sept. 11 that the U.S. "has moved against an entity controlled by the [Muslim World] League, which has tremendous clout within Saudi Arabia's deeply religious society." It's not the first time the administration's personal connections to Saudis have undermined America's ability to effectively pursue terrorism abroad.

IRAQ – WOODWARD SAYS SAUDI PRINCE IS LYING: Journalist Bob Woodward said on CNN that "Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan's assertions that he did not learn of President Bush's decision to launch war on Iraq before Secretary of State Colin Powell are false." Bandar said on Larry King Live last week "Both Vice President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld told me before the briefing that the president has not made a decision yet, but here is the plan." Woodward set the facts straight: "In this meeting you have the secretary of defense saying — according to the secretary of defense's own words – 'you can take this to the bank; this is going to happen.'"

FOR. POLICY – FRIENDSHIP IS A THREE-LETTER WORD: Sen. Charles Schumer is calling for President Bush "to withdraw his nomination of a Texas oil lobbyist to be the next ambassador" to Saudi Arabia. The nominee, James Oberwetter, while longtime Bush friend and fellow Texan, is a Dallas lobbyist for Dallas-based Hunt Oil Co. with no diplomatic experience. "It sort of says our entire relationship with Saudi Arabia is a three letter word: o-i-l," Schumer said. "He has oil lobbying experience he doesn't have diplomatic experience. This should go to a top person in the State Department."

QUESTIONING THE SAUDI APPOINTMENT: Washington Monthly editor Nicholas Confessore writes in the LA Times that since the President's speech calling for democratic reforms in the Mideast, "conservatives and liberals alike hoped that Bush might now be taking the more enlightened view that U.S. power had purposes beyond merely guaranteeing stability — and that his speech might signal a new, well-warranted toughness toward the Saudis' ruling oligarchy." But Bush's recent nomination of James Oberwetter as ambassador to Saudi Arabia "suggests that those hopes may have been misplaced." Confessore notes, "Oberwetter is a long-serving executive at Dallas-based Hunt Consolidated Inc., an energy conglomerate that owns Hunt Oil Co….he is active in Texas GOP circles, and not only friends with Bush but was a press secretary to his father when he was a member of Congress. Given Bush's closeness with Texas energy interests and his top aides' distrust of the State Department, it's no surprise that he'd rather have an oil executive in Riyadh than a career Foreign Service officer…All these qualities make Oberwetter a conventional choice — unless you took seriously Bush's speech. American ambassador-nominees are scrutinized by the host nation as a proxy for what kind of relationship the U.S. wishes to have with them. Oberwetter's nomination tells the Saudis that it's preservation of the status quo."

* The original text of this passage has been modified to correct erroneous statements concerning Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz; initial sources on which we relied have proven to be inaccurate.

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