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U.S. President George W. Bush and Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar will meet Aug. 27, a visit that may create an avenue for future U.S. cooperation with a more pro-Western faction of the Saudi royal family.
Prince Bandar, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, will meet with President Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. The two are officially scheduled to talk about the U.S. war on terrorism and ways to cooperate on bringing peace to the Middle East.
However, the meeting is likely in part an attempt to improve the rapidly deteriorating relations between Riyadh and Washington since Sept. 11. The United States has grown wary of its Middle Eastern ally due to support within the kingdom for al-Qaida and the government's opposition to a U.S. war against Iraq.
Just this weekend the Sunday Times, a London daily, reported that U.S. court documents indicate senior members of the Saudi royal family paid at least $300 million in the 1990s to al-Qaida and the Taliban government in Afghanistan in exchange for an agreement that Osama bin Laden's group would not attack Saudi targets.
The meeting with Bush also may represent an attempt by Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan – Bandar's father – to suss out the reasons why he has been named as a defendant in multi-trillion-dollar lawsuits filed by the families of those killed in the Sept. 11 attacks. The suits name two other princes, as well as various other Saudi individuals and groups, who allegedly "aided and abetted" the attack.
Finally, the visit could be part of a larger effort by the Sudairi Seven – a group of full brothers in the royal family including King Fahd, Sultan, Interior Minister Nayef and Riyadh Gov. Prince Salman – to regain the confidence of the United States and strengthen the Seven's position in Riyadh. This group is considered more pro-West and less radical in its religious views than the faction led by current Saudi leader Crown Prince Abdullah.
Washington may be hoping for a power shift within the ruling family, and Sultan and Nayef most likely aspire to retake leadership from Abdullah, who assumed power following Fahd's stroke in 1995.
Although he is the official Saudi ambassador to Washington, Bandar does not necessarily represent the interests and wishes of Abdullah. In fact, Abdullah reportedly has his own envoy in Washington and does not rely on Bandar to be his conduit to the Bush administration.
Bush's chat with the ambassador is unlikely to resolve the strategic conflict now apparent between Washington and Riyadh. However, it may help the Sudairi Seven regain U.S. confidence, which would be useful should they move to expand their hold on power in Saudi Arabia.