Saudis balk at addressing top U.S. concerns

War On Terrorism : The Nation


WASHINGTON - Saudi Arabia has refused to freeze the assets of Osama bin Laden and his associates, and has proved unwilling to cooperate fully with the investigation of the hijacking suspects in the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Bush administration officials said yesterday.

The failure of a critical ally in the Muslim world to address the major concerns of the United States has put the relationship between the two countries under increasing pressure.

To some extent, Bush administration officials say, they understand the strains in Saudi Arabia as the royal family tries to reconcile the two contradictory pillars of its support, a military alliance with the United States and the conservative strain of Islam that dominates its society.

But the White House is putting more emphasis on breaking up bin Laden's financial support and getting a handle on the investigation of the attacks, so what amounts to Saudi stonewalling rankles the administration on key fronts.

Of particular concern to the administration is the reluctance of the Saudi rulers to clamp down on the Islamic charities and other financial institutions that have provided money to bin Laden and his network.

Some of the princes in the extended royal family are thought to have connections to those charities.

Even though the royal family expelled bin Laden from Saudi Arabia years ago, U.S. officials say, it is willing to take only limited steps against him.

"Even in times of peace, there is an uneasy relationship between the secularist and religious right," said an administration official who specializes in the kingdom. "They don't want to do anything to upset the balance they've created."

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