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U.S. airport regulations embarrassed Saudis, leaked cable shows

From David de Sola, CNN
Full-body scans were among the additional screening measures the U.S. temporarily prescribed for some nationalities.
Full-body scans were among the additional screening measures the U.S. temporarily prescribed for some nationalities.
  • Saudis were on a list of nationalities warranting additional airport screening
  • Prince discussed the matter with assistant secretary of state
  • He says Saudi government could be prompted to rethink its counterterrorism cooperation

Washington (CNN) -- The government of Saudi Arabia expressed concerns about American security regulations that included Saudis in a list of nationalities that warranted additional screening at airports.

Transportation Security Administration regulations included the kingdom in a "limited group of countries for additional airport screening" adopted in the aftermath of the attempted airline bombing December 25, according to a cable published by WikiLeaks. Deputy Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Torki Al-Saud Al-Kabir raised the issue in a meeting with Jeffrey D. Feltman, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, according to a January State Department cable published by WikiLeaks.

According to TSA regulations passed January 3 in the aftermath of the failed terrorist attack, citizens and travelers from 14 countries would get enhanced screening when they fly to the United States, possibly including full-body pat-downs, carry-on bag searches, full-body scans and explosive detection swabs.

The countries on the list include those officially designated as supporters of terrorism -- Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria -- as well as other countries of interest, including Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen.

Torki told Feltman that the issue had caused "a lot of difficulties and embarrassment for Saudi Arabia," to the point that Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal would raise the issue himself with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a meeting in London, England, the next day.

According to the cable, Torki said that the issue was not the regulation itself but the kingdom's "inclusion on the list with the likes of Cuba, which causes Saudi Arabia's friends and enemies to question how strong its bilateral relationship with the United States really is."

He also noted the difficulty of explaining this policy to Saudis, considering that the flights would not have originated in the kingdom while other countries with recent terrorist incidents on airplanes -- he identifies the United Kingdom, Egypt and Turkey, according to the document -- are not included in this group.

Torki noted that although the provisions were only temporary, Saudi Arabia wanted to know how and when they would be amended. The cable also points out that he implied "the longer they remained in effect without any public explanation from the [United States government], the more it was likely to prompt the Saudi Government to re-evaluate areas of cooperation, including counter-terrorism cooperation."

Feltman promised to "convey the spirit and strength of the message" and welcomed "any specific Saudi suggestions to address the security gap regarding nonmetallic explosives exploited in the December 25 incident."

The TSA updated its guidance in April, noting that travelers coming into the United States from abroad might notice enhanced screening and security measures, regardless of country of origin. This new guidance would apply to all countries and "supersede" the list of 14 countries that offended the Saudis, which the TSA described as "an emergency measure."

On the WikiLeaks documents' release, Osama Nogali, the spokesman for the Saudi foreign minister, said that "these documents do not concern the kingdom of Saudi Arabia nor the kingdom has any role in producing them, nor is it aware of its authenticity. Therefore Saudi Arabia cannot comment on them, however, the policies and positions of the kingdom have always been clear."

CNN's Jeanne Meserve and Rima Maktabi contributed to this report.

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