U.S., Saudi Ties Could Face Changes with Kerry
When John Kerry is president, decades-old ties with Saudi Arabia could be in for an overhaul as he combats terrorism and reduces U.S. dependence on Mideast oil, according to a senior foreign policy adviser to the Democratic candidate.
In an interview with Reuters, Rand Beers said U.S.-Saudi relations, badly battered since the Sept 11, 2001 attacks were launched by Saudi-born militants, must be renegotiated.
"For years and years our relations with Saudi Arabia have been colored by a combination of questions about oil and stability. And while those are both still obvious concerns, I think the United States and Saudi Arabia need to sit down in a frank dialogue at the most senior levels and talk about what the future looks like," he said during the interview on Wednesday afternoon.
In Kerry's speeches and the Democratic Party platform that is due to be approved this weekend in Miami, the emerging tougher line is articulated.
Kerry in May proposed a plan for oil independence from the Middle East in 10 years and said if Americans are serious about this, "then we can finally be serious about confronting the role of Saudi Arabia in financing and providing ideological support of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups."
"We cannot continue this administration's kid-glove approach to the supply and laundering of terrorist money," he said.
The party platform vows: "We will move decisively to cut off the flow of terrorist funds."
With one-fourth of the world's proven oil reserves and some of the lowest production costs, Saudi Arabia has long been a reliable U.S. supplier and valued regional ally. The United States is the world's leading oil consumer and last year imported 18 percent of its needs from the Saudi kingdom.
For 50 years, U.S-Saudi ties have been based on an informal bargain -- cheap oil in exchange for security guarantees.
But this relationship was shaken when it was learned that Osama bin Laden and most of the Sept 11 al Qaeda hijackers came from Saudi Arabia and that individual Saudis have financed al Qaeda activities.
Saudi officials insist they have gone far to combat the financing of Islamic extremists in their country and a recent report by the Council on Foreign Relations agrees Riyadh has taken important steps. But critics say much more must be done.
There are also growing concerns about al Qaeda attacks in the kingdom itself against Americans and other Westerners who help run the oil industry and about the slow pace of Saudi political reform.
Former CIA director James Woolsey warned in a July 1 speech that the successor to pro-western Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah could be Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz, the interior minister, "whose views have closer similarity" to bin Laden than the United States, according to a report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The family of President Bush has long ties to the Saud family that runs Saudi Arabia, and both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney once were oilmen.
Kerry and the Democratic Party platform say if Kerry takes the White House in the November election, he will impose tough financial sanctions against nations or banks engaging in money laundering or failing to act against extremists.
They also promise to launch a "name and shame" campaign against those financing terror and if that does not succeed, offenders will be "shut out of the U.S. financial system."
"Kerry comes at energy policy from a variety of directions, but one of the things that he feels strongly about is that there is a clear foreign policy component or requirement for us to deal with in our energy policy," Beers said.
Beers said the financing of "terrorist organizations" by certain Saudi individuals and the financing of organizations promoting an extreme brand of Islam by the Saudi ministry of religious affairs must be discussed between Washington and Riyadh "in a very frank way."
On oil dependence, Beers said Kerry plans to "adjust our energy needs so that foreign, Middle Eastern oil isn't as critical an element of our energy needs as it is today."
Kerry's approach to U.S. energy needs was attacked as "disingenuous" by the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, Republican Pete Domenici of New Mexico, who said it won't work. Domenici also accused Kerry of missing energy votes as the Senate struggled this year to pass an energy bill.
Other big U.S. oil suppliers include Canada, Venezuela, Mexico and Nigeria.
U.S. dependence on imported oil has grown over the past decade, with declining domestic oil production and growing demand. Experts say this trend is expected to continue.