Saudi Arabia, after its powerful deputy crown prince met with President Obama at the White House on Friday, publicly rebutted campaign allegations by both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump that it supports Islamist extremism and said it expects strong U.S. relations to continue no matter who wins the election.
“Irrespective of who is in the White House,” Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said, close U.S.-Saudi ties “are not based on personal relationships.” Instead, he said at a news conference, they are “based on shared interests,” including Middle East security, counterterrorism, trade, investment and international finance.
“This relationship is very solid,” Jubeir said.
Earlier this week, as Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who also serves as defense minister, arrived in Washington, Clinton repeated a charge that she first made last year.
“It is long past time for the Saudis, the Qataris and the Kuwaitis and others to stop their citizens from funding extremist organizations,” the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said at an Ohio rally. “And they should stop supporting radical schools and mosques around the world that have set too many young people on a path towards extremism.”
Trump, the expected Republican nominee, has suggested that the Saudis may have been complicit in the 9/11 attacks, threatened to end oil purchases from the kingdom if it does not send ground troops to Syria, and said that it should pay the United States for “protecting” it.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is bipartisan,” Jubeir said, and relations have grown “stronger, broader, deeper” under both Democratic and Republican administrations.
While he declined to speak specifically about Trump, Jubeir said that “Secretary Clinton has tremendous experience,” has been to Saudi Arabia many times and “knows the region.”
Responding to her specific charges, he said that “all of us can do more” to stop terrorist funding, “including the United States.” Saudi Arabia, he said, has “one of the strictest laws” in the world criminalizing the sending of money to extremist groups overseas and mandating that any “charitable” giving be funneled exclusively through the government.
“Nobody can question the kingdom’s commitment to fighting terror,” Jubeir said. “At the end of the day, we are the main targets,” he said, citing the large number of civilians and security officials killed in terrorist attacks.
Jubeir repeated Saudi insistence that the “28 pages,” as they are known, redacted from a 2002 Senate report on the al-Qaeda attacks be published in full. The pages, which the Obama administration has indicated it will release this month, are thought to contain FBI work plans for interviewing Saudi citizens and officials who might have had some involvement. The subsequent 9/11 Commission report, published in 2004 after a lengthy investigation, indicated that all of those leads were followed and determined to lack substance.
Jubeir said deciding when and how much of the document to release was a U.S. issue, not a Saudi issue.
He also warned that passage of a proposed U.S. law to allow 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia and other countries for compensation would set a dangerous precedent and harm the United States above all. The White House has agreed, threatening to veto a bill removing sovereign immunity in such cases that has passed the Senate and is awaiting House action.
Jubeir denied reports that his government has threatened to withdraw investment from the United States if it becomes law. But he acknowledged that he, the former Saudi ambassador to Washington, had pointed out that it would cause the international financial system to revert to the “law of the jungle” and said the country with “the most to lose is the United States . . . the largest player in the world.”
Referring to Clinton, Jubeir said allegations that Saudi-built mosques were promoting extremism in other countries were “not correct, exaggerated and not fair.” Any such donations require permission from the local government, he said, and if someone uses them to “preach intolerance,” that government can “take them to task.” Policing what is taught in mosques and schools, he said, “is the responsibility of local government, not the donor.”
He also rejected claims, made by Trump and others here, that Saudi Arabia has not taken a fair share of Syrian refugees. Since Syria’s civil conflict began five years ago, he said, the kingdom has admitted 2.4 million Syrians, 600,000 to 700,000 of whom remain in Saudi Arabia.
“None of them is in a refugee camp. . . . We do not have a person in a tent,” he said, adding that they are “guests” and given work permits, health care and education. “They are free to stay in Saudi Arabia until the crisis is over.”