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Both countries paid the price on Sept. 11. Yet far from challenging the Saudis' record of breeding extremism, the White House has from the start defended its oil-rich ally. As early as Sept. 24, Bush declared "the Saudi Arabians have been nothing but cooperative." Counterterrorism officials in Washington and Riyadh say they have worked closely together to liquidate al-Qaeda. According to U.S. officials, the Saudis have arrested more than 100 al-Qaeda members inside the kingdom, given American investigators access to interrogations of terrorism suspects and shared reams of intelligence on the Taliban and bin Laden's network.
But some U.S. officials say the Saudis have shown less enthusiasm for American efforts to choke off the huge sums of Saudi money that flow to terrorist organizations, including al-Qaeda, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The regime waited until March to put into place new measures that crack down on money laundering and require Saudi-based charities to disclose where their money is going. "There are things we want that they're not ready to exchange yet," says a U.S. diplomat in the region.
The Saudis approved Pentagon use of the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC), a multibillion-dollar U.S.-built facility at the Prince Sultan base, to direct the air war against the Taliban but did not offer to allow American bombers to fly combat missions from Saudi bases. If the Administration expected more from the Saudis, it didn't ask for it. On sensitive internal matters--such as the radical indoctrination of schoolchildren by the Wahhabists--the U.S. has not pressured the royal family directly. "There has been no table pounding," admits a senior U.S. official. "When the Saudis get hectored about reform, they get their backs up and say, To hell with it--we're not going to do it."
The festering public anger toward the U.S. gives the Saudis little incentive to cooperate. Only 16% of Saudis have a favorable view of America, according to a Gallup poll taken this spring. Nothing has done more to fuel the antipathy than the Administration's unwillingness to even try to rein in the Israeli offensive against the Palestinians. Says Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud,who is the biggest foreign investor in the U.S.: "The people see their brothers dying in Palestine, and it makes them hate America." The Israeli reoccupation of West Bank cities has handed religious hard-liners an excuse to go on the offensive. In a televised address, Sheik Abd-al-Rahman al-Sudays, imam of the Mosque of Mecca, declared that God turned Jews into "pigs and monkeys," condemned the "poisonous culture and rotten ideas" of the West, and trashed Hinduism.