Bush: Riyadh working to fight terror

US President George W. Bush certified on Friday that Saudi Arabia is cooperating with efforts to combat international terrorism, clearing the way for funds for democratization and women’s empowerment to flow to the Persian Gulf power.  

The determination comes weeks after the US Treasury undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Stuart Levey charged that Saudi Arabia has failed to prosecute those who fund terror organizations. 

Levey reportedly told ABC News that Saudi Arabia had yet to prosecute a single person identified by the US or UN as funding terrorism. 

Even more recently, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom found that Saudi Arabia hasn’t substantially halted the export of literature that promotes hatred and intolerance. 

The same report also cite a lack of Saudi progress in protecting religious freedom and tolerance in the country. 

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino defended the president’s action on Saudi Arabia, however, saying she couldn’t recall the Treasury official’s comments and that the waiver he granted Friday allows for programs promoting government reform, education and women’s empowerment. 

“In order for these programs to get off the ground in the kingdom and get the funding, the president has to weigh them,” she said. “That’s why he took this action today.” 

Perino also dismissed the suggestion that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hadn’t accomplished much on her recent trip to Israel and the region, which would likely mean a postponement of the international peace parley in Annapolis. 

“We believe the time is right for there to a substantive and serious discussion about getting to a Palestinian state,” she said. “I have not heard anything to suggest that we would not be holding a meeting. They’re all working towards it.” 

Earlier Friday, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-New York), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East, began circulating a letter to Rice calling for “robust, hands-on US leadership and diplomacy” ahead of the Annapolis meeting. 

Ackerman, who is Jewish, co-authored the letter with Charles Boustany (R-Louisiana), who is of Arab heritage. It calls for a boosting of funds to the Palestinian Authority to emphasize political reform, job creation and safeguarding institutions. 

“We believe the coming months represent a critical opportunity to stabilize the region by advancing a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians – and perhaps a comprehensive opening of Israeli relations with the Arab world,” the letter states. 

“However, it is equally clear that a still-born initiative could set back prospects for peace, destabilize regional allies, and exacerbate an already volatile situation in the Middle East. 

Its backers include Americans for Peace Now, the Israel Policy Forum, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the Arab American Institute and the American Task for on Palestine. 


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