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DETROIT - The Saudi foreign minister, defended the kingdom's record against terrorism yesterday and called on the United States to relax post-9/11 travel restrictions that have slammed the door on most Saudi citizens.
The security measures “are not conducive to maintaining the healthy relations that existed between our two countries,” Prince Saud Al-Faisal told business and political leaders from the United States and the Middle East attending a three-day conference aimed at expanding trade and business ties between the regions.
Conceding that the tightened entry requirements were an understandable reaction to the deadly terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in the United States, Prince al-Faisal said, however, that they are doing “great damage” to Saudi citizens who want to visit relatives in the United States for schooling, health care, and other reasons.
During a morning seminar at the Renaissance Center that included Intel Corp. CEO Craig Barrett, the Saudi foreign minister charged that the kingdom is the object of a smear campaign by some in America.
He claimed that terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden picked Saudis to lead strikes on the United States in a “demonic” plot to damage the warm relations that has existed between the two nations since U.S. oilmen helped develop Saudi oil reserves in the 1930s.
A top bin Laden aide has provided investigators with information to support that scenario, he claimed. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers from 9/11 were reportedly Saudi citizens.
“The damage was done,” added the prince. “Saudi Arabia was forced to witness distressing changes in the way Americans see our country.
“We are accused of supporting a global Jihad. Come on. Let's be serious. If the great powers of the Earth ... could not change the world in their image, do you think Saudi Arabia - a small country - can do that?”
A poll conducted by a U.S. firm found that 90 percent of Saudi citizens “reject bin Laden and what he stands for.”
“We were appalled” by the events of Sept. 11, he said. “The people of Saudi Arabia were horrified by the evilness of the deed.”
Prince al-Faisal said, “It is unfair to let a group of deviants taint a nation.”
Saudi Arabia, he said, has arrested 500 terrorists since the attacks, frozen assets of terror groups, established a commission to examine links to charities, and collected intelligence that has helped foil terror plots in the United States and other nations.
“We shall show no mercy to the terrorists,” he said.
He cautioned, however, that Middle East development is contingent on settling the Arab-Israeli conflict.
“Without a settlement, all endeavors in the region become difficult if not impossible - including Iraq.”
The prince said the United States can provide “leadership, talent, and resources” in Iraq. But Iraq's priorities should be set by Iraqis under U.N. protection, the prince said.
His appearance was organized by the American-Arab Chamber of Commerce and the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce. They sponsored the U.S.-Arab Economic Forum, which ended yesterday.42.33168 -83.04792