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Tuesday, 29 January, 2002, 18:11 GMT
Saudi Arabia 'still friends' with US
Detainees glimpsed behind the wire at Guantanamo Bay prison camp
Saudis are reportedly the biggest group at the jail
Crown Prince Abdallah of Saudi Arabia has said that ties with the United States remain strong despite the efforts of Saudi-born fugitive Osama Bin Laden to drive a wedge between them.

The heir to the throne, who has effectively ruled the country since King Fahd suffered a stroke six years ago, acknowledged the role of Saudis in the 11 September terror attacks on America and condemned Bin Laden as a "deviant".

If you have a friend, would you prefer that friend be honest and sincere and frank and point out areas of your life that need change, or would you prefer a friend who just goes along with anything you say?

Crown Prince Abdallah

Of the 158 terror suspects now being held at the US prison camp in Cuba's Guantanamo Bay, 100 are Saudi nationals, the Saudi Government says.

Giving a rare interview to the US press, Crown Prince Abdallah said Riyadh could not agree with Washington on support for Israel, and he would not be drawn on the issue of retaining Gulf War-era US military bases in Saudi Arabia.

Bin Laden has condemned the Saudi authorities for tolerating the bases.

Responding to Crown Prince Abdallah's comments, the United States admitted differences over Middle East policy.

Crown Prince Abdallah of Saudi Arabia
On Bin Laden: "A deviant is a deviant regardless of nationality"

"The approach to the Middle East, to peace with Israel and their Arab neighbours, that's an issue on which there is disagreement," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

Crown Prince Abdallah said it was difficult to defend the US when Washington seemed unwilling to condemn Israel's use of force against the Palestinians.

He bitterly attacked Israel's policy towards the Palestinians.

"We see children being shot at, buildings being destroyed, trees uprooted, people encircled, territories closed and women killed," he said.

"The reasons that lead people to become suicide bombers - these are the reasons they do so."

The deployment of 5,000 US troops in Saudi Arabia was sidestepped in the interview, with the prince merely saying it was not under discussion.

Al-Qaeda suspects

The prince said it was clear that Bin Laden had planned the terror attacks, recruiting and "brainwashing" Saudis, in a bid to wreck relations with the US.

We ask that they be handed over to us so we can interrogate them, since they fall under the kingdom's regulations

Prince Nayef
Saudi interior minister

"Bin Laden's objective was to drive a wedge between the kingdom and the United States," he said.

The Saudi Interior Minister, Prince Nayef, has asked the US to hand back for interrogation the more than 100 Saudi nationals he said were being held at Guantanamo Bay.

"I know about them, but we don't know the charges against them, except that they were arrested in Afghanistan," the minister said.

"We ask that they be handed over to us so we can interrogate them, since they fall under the kingdom's regulations."

Without confirming the numbers, US President George W Bush said the decision on whether they would return to Saudi Arabia would be made "on a case-by-case basis".

A US defence official has told Associated Press news agency - on condition of anonymity - that Saudis make up about a fifth of the 482 suspects held by the US on Cuba and in Afghanistan.

See also:

23 Jan 02 | Middle East
US eases servicewomen's dress code
10 Dec 01 | Middle East
Saudi women get identity cards
28 Mar 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Saudi rough justice
25 Jan 02 | Middle East
Saudis criticise US dress-code change
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