Saudi Arabia, US pledge stronger cooperation

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AFP) — Saudi Arabia and the United States pledged Sunday to boost cooperation on terrorism, Iraq and Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts in a renewed display of unity in their often-delicate alliance.
The vows came during a day of talks between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Saudi leaders here in the first US-Saudi Strategic Dialogue conceived at summit talks in April.

In a joint news conference held by Rice and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Faisal, the two sides worked hard to erase any trace of controversy over Saudi support for the war on terrorism or democratic reforms.

Faisal pledged financial and political support for the task of rebuilding Iraq after the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and withdraw criticism of US policies which he said in September could break the country apart.

He said that now that steps had been taken to bring Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis together, “my fears which had been expressed earlier are much more eased.”

Rice sought to dampen criticism by some in the United States that the Saudis were not doing enough to combat financing for global terrorism.

“The question of financing of terrorism has been a concern not just to us but to the Saudi government,” she said.

“Yes we have had to intensify our efforts on terrorism financing and we believe we have made progress but there is always more progress that can be made.”

“I am certain that the Saudi government can do better. I’m certain that all of us can do better,” Rice said. “But there is, I believe, no lack of will.”

However, Rice tempered this by saying that: “We also have made clear that the Saudi government could do more on issues of incitement,” of anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment.

Faisal blamed reports that Saudi was lax on terrorism on the media and said the kingdom was doing its best to crack down on militant groups and curb incitements to violence.

“We are fighting as hard as we can,” he said. “I would dare anybody to say that there is any other country that is fighting terror as hard as Saudi Arabia.”

Both sides agreed on the need to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even if Faisal acknowledged concerns that Washington was tilting too much towards Israel.

“The continuation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict helps in allowing the terrorists to justify their actions … and it allows recruitment,” he said. “In that fact alone it behoves us to do everything we can to remove that.”

The Saudi minister even had kind words for the US push to promote democracy in the region which hit a bump Saturday when an international conference on the effort ended in discord without a final statement.

“All in all I think the United States came out very well,” Faisal said.

“The common ground between the countries has expanded so I wouldn’t call it (the conference) by any means a failure.” Faisal also pledged that municipal councils elected earlier this year in the most visible display of democratic progress in Saudi would meet as planned.

“I don’t know the exact date but they will certainly meet,” he said.

The two countries issued a joint statement saying they would continue meeting “with the objective of strengthening, deepening, broadening and institutionalising the historic relationship.”

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