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Saturday, 14 December, 2002, 15:07 GMT
Powell says reform Saudi's choice
Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has been accused of human rights abuses
US Secretary of State Colin Powell has said Saudi Arabia must "decide its own path" towards modernising its society.

Speaking to the Arabic Al-Qods al-Arabi newspaper, Mr Powell said that while he respected Saudi culture, the desert kingdom "will have to start examining [its] traditions and ... practices to see whether or not change is appropriate".

Saudi Arabia will have to decide its own path

Colin Powell, US secretary of state
It comes days after Mr Powell pledged $29m in a US initiative to strengthen democracy across the Middle East.

The United States' relationship with Saudi Arabia has come under criticism recently amid claims Saudi Arabia is not doing enough to fight international terrorism.

Washington has also been accused of ignoring human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia in order to preserve Saudi Arabia's help in opposing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Praise

Mr Powell told Al-Qods al-Arabi he had talked about his initiative with a number of Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia.

President Bush and Crown Prince Abdullah
Saudi Arabia is a key strategic ally for America

The secretary of state said he was encouraged by reforms in Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Morocco, and said Saudi Arabia could follow their example or choose its own way.

"Saudi Arabia will have to decide its own path, and I don't know if it will decide a path like any other nation in the region or it will design something that is unique to Saudi Arabia," French news agency AFP quoted him as telling the newspaper.

"It is up to Saudis to decide how they wish to transform their society in order to make it prepared for the 21st Century," Mr Powell was quoted as saying.

The secretary of state said that while America would not "dictate change", the US would like to "be able to influence how such reforms are going to be introduced as some of them could be better than others".

Terror link

America's relationship with Saudi Arabia has been strained since it emerged that 15 of the 19 hijackers involved in the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States were Saudi nationals.

Recently, the wife of the Saudi ambassador to America was accused of indirectly financing two of the hijackers.

Saudi Arabia, which follows a strict code of Islamic law, has also been accused of widespread human rights abuses and denying basic civil liberties.

There is no elected parliament or political parties, while human rights campaigners say arbitrary arrests and torture are sanctioned by the state.

See also:

13 Dec 02 | Americas
07 Dec 02 | Middle East
09 Nov 02 | Middle East
28 Nov 02 | Middle East
05 Sep 02 | Americas
02 Nov 02 | Country profiles
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