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Royal Intrigue, Unpaid Bills Preceded Saudi Ambassador's Exit

Prince Turki al-Faisal, left, and his brother Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, favor talks with Iran.
Prince Turki al-Faisal, left, and his brother Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, favor talks with Iran. (By Lawrence Jackson -- Associated Press)

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Gallagher Group's Jamie Gallagher, a former congressional staffer who served as a lobbyist for the kingdom for 11 years, said this is the first time he has not been paid for a whole year. He is owed more than $100,000. "There are people who are owed more than I am. I haven't been able to figure it out," he said.

The cutoff of funds appears to be one manifestation of a royal rift over, among other things, the way to handle the rising influence of Iran in the Middle East.

In his secret visits, Bandar increasingly pressed the Bush administration not to deal with Iran -- and, instead, to organize joint efforts to counter Iran's growing influence in the Middle East, such as in Lebanon, said sources close to the royal family. The new model would be based roughly on the kind of joint U.S.-Saudi cooperation that assisted anti-Soviet forces during Moscow's 1979-1989 occupation of Afghanistan, the sources said.

Washington and Riyadh are already planning a major aid and military training package for the beleaguered Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, whose government is besieged by thousands of supporters of Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

The Sunni kingdom sees Iran as a threat because of Tehran's alleged nuclear weapons program. The kingdom also fears the shifting balance of power -- under Iran's tutelage -- between minority Shiites and majority Sunnis, who have dominated Middle East politics for almost 14 centuries. The monarchy faces its own restive Shiite minority in the main oil-producing province.

The kingdom grew particularly alarmed as the report of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group began to leak out last month, with recommendations that the administration talk to both Iran and Syria, say U.S. officials and sources close to the royal family. Even before the report was released, Abdullah summoned Cheney to again warn about Iran and the regional implications of its growing influence -- and offer Saudi assistance and discuss joint U.S.-Saudi efforts.

The al-Faisal brothers, in contrast, have consistently urged dialogue with Tehran and are wary of joint U.S.-Saudi efforts against Iran and its surrogates. Turki often urged the United States to deal with its enemies. In one of his final public speeches, at the Philadelphia World Affairs Council last month, Turki said: "We speak directly with Iran on all issues. We find that talking with them is better than not talking with them."

Turki's frequent public events -- in which he was frank about America's poor image abroad and urged progress on the deadlocked Arab-Israeli peace process as the key to defusing broader regional tensions -- generated an unusual amount of attention in the Saudi media and made him a popular figure back home.

Saudi experts say differences within the royal family, like virtually everything having to do with the House of Saud, are heavily nuanced. "On Iran policy, they all make the same diagnosis but have a different prescription for what to do about it," said David E. Long, a former U.S. diplomat and the author of five books on Saudi Arabia.

After a year of internal tensions and failure to pay bills, Turki was not invited to Riyadh for Cheney's visit, Saudi sources confirmed. And Bandar returned to Washington again right after the meeting to discuss the specifics of the joint efforts. Two weeks later, Turki quit.

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