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|Dismay With Saudi Arabia Fuels Pullout Talk|
|01/16/02 at 20:45:58|
Dismay With Saudi Arabia Fuels Pullout Talk
By JAMES DAO
WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 — A number of senior officials in Congress and the Pentagon are saying the
United States should consider withdrawing military forces from Saudi Arabia because of frustration
over what they consider the kingdom's tepid support for the war on terrorism and the restrictions
it places on American military operations.
The dismay with Saudi Arabia ranges widely. In Congress, there is a broad sense that the Saudis
are not doing enough to rein in Islamic militants. Some lawmakers also hold the Saudi government
responsible for a Pentagon requirement that American servicewomen wear head-to-toe robes when
traveling outside their Saudi bases, a rule being challenged in a lawsuit brought by a female Air
Force major against the United States military.
In the Pentagon, a growing number of commanders are frustrated with the Saudis' refusal to allow
American warplanes based at a sprawling airfield south of Riyadh to bomb Iraq and other Islamic
countries, except in self-defense. "We're pretty heavily invested in Saudi right now," a senior
military official said. "But if the opportunity arose to operate somewhere else in the region we'd
be pretty interested."
In the sharpest and most recent expression of frustration, Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat
who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said today that he had "an uneasy feeling"
that the Saudis were not doing enough to crack down on Islamic terrorists and that American forces
were "not particularly wanted" there. "They act as though somehow or another they're doing us a
favor," Senator Levin told reporters. "And I think the war against terrorism has got to be fought
by countries who really realize that it's in everybody's interest to go after terrorism.
"I think we may be able to find a place where we are much more welcome openly," he said, "a place
which has not seen significant resources flowing to support some really extreme, fanatic views."
In a statement, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, responded to
the comments. "Our two nations share the goal of peace and the end of terrorism," he said. "I have
great respect for Senator Levin, but I am surprised by his statement."
Senator Levin did not say where the several thousand American forces might be moved. They also use
airfields, ports and command posts in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and United Arab Emirates.
But it is widely acknowledged in military circles that the Pentagon would have a hard time
replacing a high-tech air operations center it opened last summer at Prince Sultan Air Base
outside Riyadh. American commanders directed the air campaign in Afghanistan from Prince Sultan,
which is also the command center for the allied fighter jets that patrol the no-flight zone over
For that reason, some members of Congress say the United States cannot afford to move its forces
out of Saudi Arabia, particularly while tensions in the region remain high.
"The kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been a valued partner in the Persian Gulf region for many years,
particularly during the Persian Gulf war in 1991," said Senator John Warner, a Virginia Republican
who is the ranking minority member on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"While we must periodically evaluate our overseas military presence, at this time, given U.S.
commitments to the world in the war on terrorism, it would not be wise to significantly lessen the
American military and security relationships with the kingdom."
But Senator Levin's remarks clearly touched on a sentiment shared by many lawmakers who have been
disappointed by what they consider the Saudi government's unwillingness to speak out against
militant, anti-Western Islamic mullahs.
"They have been good friends over the years, but I'm not sure their whole heart is with us," said
Representative Ike Skelton, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. "They need
to cleanse the place of potential terrorist groups."
Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, warned in a speech on Monday of a
"theological iron curtain" that could isolate Saudi Arabia and other Islamic nations that did not
fight radical Islam. Referring to a speech on Saturday in which the military ruler of Pakistan,
Gen. Pervez Musharraf, vowed to curb Islamic militants, Senator Lieberman said, "President
Musharraf's principled and historic statement over the weekend should serve as an example for
other allies of ours in places like Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Let's hope it does."
Representative Porter J. Goss of Florida, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in an
interview today that he and many other members of Congress shared Senator Levin's frustrations
with the Saudis, though he was not prepared to support removing American troops from the kingdom.
"He's expressing a frustration that many of us feel about their evolutionary process into a more
democratic society," Mr. Goss said. "It's pretty tyrannical there."
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