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Saudi Arabia not an enemy, U.S. assures Mideast nation

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration sought to assure Saudi Arabia Tuesday that it is still a close U.S. ally despite a private analyst's report warning of threats posed by the desert kingdom.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the Defense Advisory Board -- a panel that advises the Pentagon on defense policy -- hosted an analyst from the Rand Corporation who portrayed Saudi Arabia as an enemy of the United States.

Rand analyst Laurent Murawiec told the panel that the Saudis support and finance terrorism, the newspaper reported. He recommended that the United States seize Saudi oil fields and freeze its assets in the United States unless it halts this support, the Post reported.

Secretary of State Colin Powell called the Saudi foreign minister Tuesday to assure him the opinions expressed in the briefing did not reflect the U.S. opinion of Saudi Arabia.

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"He wanted to make quite clear that those views ... do not represent the views of the U.S. government, that these musings of private individuals are not indicative of U.S. policy," said deputy State Department spokesman Philip Reeker.

Rand also distanced itself from the presentation, saying it "was not a Rand research product."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a town hall-style meeting of Pentagon employees Tuesday that it was "unfortunate" that information about the briefing was leaked to the media.

"There was some outsider came into the department, gave a briefing, left and the impression is left (that the briefing represents) some sort of policy decision on the part of the government or that there is a view that is a dominant opinion," Rumsfeld said. "He had an opinion and, of course, everyone has a right to their opinion. It did not represent the views of the government. It did not represent the views of the Defense Policy Board."

He added, "Saudi Arabia is like any other country. It has broad spectrum of activities, some of which, like our country, that we agree with and some we may not."

Since September 11, the Bush administration has walked a delicate balance between maintaining Saudi support for the war on terrorism and for its efforts in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. The United States has also pushed Saudi leaders to curtail terrorist financing and support within the country and crack down on fundamentalist and anti-American rhetoric by Muslim clerics.

Public support

Despite private frustrations expressed by U.S. officials, the Bush administration has maintained staunch public support for Saudi Arabia.

"The United States and Saudi Arabia enjoy excellent relations," Reeker said, adding that the two countries share a "broad array of interests," including peace in the Middle East region and the war on terrorism.

Reeker said the Saudi government "has cooperated in the international campaign against terrorism, and we welcome steps taken by Saudi Arabia to help combat the problem of terrorism financing, an important aspect of our war on terrorism globally.

"As with any relationship, we have differences with the Saudis," he said. "We raise these differences. They raise their differences. We have private discussions at all levels, and then we work to resolve them. That's what diplomacy is about."

In a written statement, Rand spokesman David Egner said Murawiec's briefing "represents one personal contribution to an ongoing policy debate on which there are a wide range of views within Rand and elsewhere. The opinions and conclusions expressed are those of the author and should not be interpreted as representing those of Rand."

Neither Murawiec nor Rand was paid for the briefing, he said.




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