Thursday, October 05, 2006

Saudi Ambassador raps US on reform calls

Agence France-Presse - 05 October, 2006

Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States hit out at US "bombast" in calls for reform in the kingdom and warned action was needed now on the Israeli-Palestinian peace track.

Ambassador Prince Turki al-Faisal's remarks came as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice toured the Middle East in a bid to court moderate Arab states which have shown growing impatience with US policies in the region.

While he said US-Saudi relations were in much better shape after a number of upsets in recent years, there were still areas of contention.

"We don't mind being criticized. There is a well-known saying in Arabic: Your true friend is one who tells you the truth rather than one who simply agrees with you," Prince Turki said.

"But it is the way in which Americans criticize, whether it is politicians or public figures or thought leaders, that causes us concern.

"We often hear political rhetoric and bombast and not constructive commentary," he said noting Americans wanted reform and change in Saudi society.

"That is on the agenda ... but we're not going to change just because you tell us to," Prince Turki said. "Making dictums leads nowhere. Constructive comments, on the other hand, are more helpful."

His comments came in the context of President George W. Bush's instruction to Rice to engage moderate Arab allies of the United States on strengthening Palestinian security services loyal to president Mahmud Abbas.

"I am hopeful something concrete will come out," Prince Turki said, referring to Rice's visit, which included talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.

"But talking is not enough," he added, saying Prince Saud told Rice that efforts to solve the Palestinian question must now get results.

"We have talked about procedure for 50 years, now we have to talk about how to tackle the hard issues of the Palestinian problem," Prince Turki said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) here.

"This is what we are looking for from the Secretary of State."

"We think that this may be a time for the United States to put its foot forward."

Rice earlier Wednesday called for a Palestinian government able to pave the way to a two-state solution and vowed to redouble efforts to support the Palestinians.

But the Bush administration has been assailed by recent demands for action from impatient Arab allies angered by staunch US support for Israel in the Hezbollah conflict and what they see as US inaction on the Israeli-Palestinian track.

On Tuesday, Rice held talks with foreign ministers from Egypt, Jordan and the monarchies that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) -- Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.

Prince Turki also said the United States should engage Iran directly over the nuclear crisis, and not refuse to talk to its long-time enemy.

"I think for the United States not to talk to Iran is a mistake," Prince Turki said.

"We've found, in our experience, that when we did not talk to Iran -- our relations were broken for a period of a few years in the '90s -- we had more troubles with each other."

State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey sidestepped Prince Turki's comments, but said Washington had a "important," and "friendly" relationship with its ally which permitted a two-way dialogue on issues of concern.

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