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A Saudi Prince Tied to Bush Is Sounding Off-Key

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/29/washington/29saudi.html?_r=1&th&emc=th&oref=slogin A Saudi Prince Tied to Bush Is Sounding Off-Key By HELENE COOPER and JIM
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 29, 2007
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      A Saudi Prince Tied to Bush Is Sounding Off-Key

      Published: April 29, 2007

      WASHINGTON, April 28 — No foreign diplomat has been
      closer or had more access to President Bush, his
      family and his administration than the magnetic and
      fabulously wealthy Prince Bandar bin Sultan of Saudi

      Prince Bandar has mentored Mr. Bush and his father
      through three wars and the broader campaign against
      terrorism, reliably delivering — sometimes in the Oval
      Office — his nation’s support for crucial Middle East
      initiatives dependent on the regional legitimacy the
      Saudis could bring, as well as timely warnings of
      Saudi regional priorities that might put it into
      apparent conflict with the United States. Even after
      his 22-year term as Saudi ambassador ended in 2005, he
      still seemed the insider’s insider. But now, current
      and former Bush administration officials are wondering
      if the longtime reliance on him has begun to outlive
      its usefulness.

      Bush administration officials have been scratching
      their heads over steps taken by Prince Bandar’s uncle,
      King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, that have surprised
      them by going against the American playbook, after
      receiving assurances to the contrary from Prince
      Bandar during secret trips he made to Washington.

      For instance, in February, King Abdullah effectively
      torpedoed plans by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
      for a high-profile peace summit meeting between Prime
      Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel and the Palestinian
      president, Mahmoud Abbas, by brokering a power-sharing
      agreement with Mr. Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas that did
      not require Hamas to recognize Israel or forswear
      violence. The Americans had believed, after
      discussions with Prince Bandar, that the Saudis were
      on board with the strategy of isolating Hamas.

      American officials also believed, again after speaking
      with Prince Bandar, that the Saudis might agree to
      direct engagement with Israel as part of a broad
      American plan to jump-start Israeli-Palestinian peace
      talks. King Abdullah countermanded that plan.

      Most bitingly, during a speech before Arab heads of
      state in Riyadh three weeks ago, the king condemned
      the American invasion of Iraq as “an illegal foreign
      occupation.” The Bush administration, caught off
      guard, was infuriated, and administration officials
      have found Prince Bandar hard to reach since.

      Since the Iraq war and the attendant plummeting of
      America’s image in the Muslim world, King Abdullah has
      been striving to set a more independent and less
      pro-American course, American and Arab officials said.
      And that has steered America’s relationship with its
      staunchest Arab ally into uncharted waters. Prince
      Bandar, they say, may no longer be able to serve as an
      unerring beacon of Saudi intent.

      “The problem is that Bandar has been pursuing a policy
      that was music to the ears of the Bush administration,
      but was not what King Abdullah had in mind at all,”
      said Martin S. Indyk, a former United States
      ambassador to Israel who is now head of the Brookings
      Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

      Of course it is ultimately the king — and not the
      prince — who makes the final call on policy. More than
      a dozen associates of Prince Bandar, including
      personal friends and Saudi officials who spoke on
      condition of anonymity, said that if his counsel has
      led to the recent misunderstandings, it is due to his
      longtime penchant for leaving room in his dispatches
      for friends to hear what they want to hear. That
      approach, they said, is catching up to the prince as
      new tensions emerge between the United States and
      Saudi Arabia.

      Mr. Bandar, son of one of the powerful seven sons born
      to the favorite wife of Saudi Arabia’s founding king,
      “needs to personally regroup and figure out how to put
      Humpty Dumpty together again,” one associate said.

      Robert Jordan, a former Bush administration ambassador
      to Saudi Arabia, said the Saudis’ mixed signals have
      come at a time when King Abdullah — who has ruled the
      country since 1995 but became king only in 2005 after
      the death of his brother, Fahd — has said he does not
      want to go down in history as Mr. Bush’s Arab Tony
      Blair. “I think he feels the need as a kind of
      emerging leader of the Arab world right now to
      maintain a distance,” he said.

      Mr. Jordan said that although the United States and
      Saudi Arabia “have different views on how to get
      there,” the countries still share the same long-term
      goals for the region and remain at heart strong

      An administration spokesman, Gordon D. Johndroe, said
      none of the current issues threatened the
      relationship. “We may have differences on issues now
      and then,” he said, “but we remain close allies.”

      Or, as Saleh al-Kallab, a former minister of
      information in Jordan, put it, “The relationship
      between the United States and the Arab regimes is like
      a Catholic marriage where you can have no divorce.”

      But there can be separation. And several associates of
      Prince Bandar acknowledge that he feels caught between
      the opposing pressure of the king and that of his
      close friends in the Bush administration. It is a
      relationship that Prince Bandar has fostered with
      great care and attention to detail over the years,
      making himself practically indispensable to Mr. Bush,
      his family and his aides.

      A few nights after he resigned his post as secretary
      of state two years ago, Colin L. Powell answered a
      ring at his front door. Standing outside was Prince
      Bandar, then Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United
      States, with a 1995 Jaguar. Mr. Powell’s wife, Alma,
      had once mentioned that she missed their 1995 Jaguar,
      which she and her husband had traded in. Prince Bandar
      had filed that information away, and presented the
      Powells that night with an identical, 10-year-old
      model. The Powells kept the car — a gift that the
      State Department said was legal — but recently traded
      it away.

      The move was classic Bandar, who has been referred to
      as Bandar Bush, attending birthday celebrations,
      sending notes in times of personal crisis and
      entertaining the Bushes or top administration
      officials at sumptuous dinner parties at Prince
      Bandar’s opulent homes in McLean, Va., and Aspen,

      He has invited top officials to pizza and movies out
      at a mall in suburban Virginia — and then rented out
      the movie theater (candy served chair-side, in a
      wagon) and the local Pizza Hut so he and his guests
      could enjoy themselves in solitude. He is said to feel
      a strong sense of loyalty toward Mr. Bush’s father
      dating to the Persian Gulf war, which transferred to
      the son, whom he counseled about international
      diplomacy during Mr. Bush’s first campaign for

      After the Sept. 11 attacks, as the United States
      learned that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi and
      focused on the strict Wahhabi school of Islam that
      informed them and their leader and fellow Saudi, Osama
      bin Laden, Prince Bandar took a public role in
      assuring the Americans that his nation would cooperate
      in investigating and combating anti-American
      terrorism. He also helped arrange for more than a
      hundred members of the bin Laden family to be flown
      out of the United States.

      Even since he left the Saudi ambassador’s post in
      Washington and returned to Saudi Arabia two years ago,
      Prince Bandar has continued his long courtship, over
      decades, of the Bush family and Vice President Dick
      Cheney, flying into Washington for unofficial meetings
      at the White House. He cruises in without consulting
      the Saudi Embassy in Washington, where miffed
      officials have sometimes said they had no idea that he
      was in town — a perceived slight that contributed to
      the resignation of his cousin Prince Turki al-Faisal
      as ambassador to the United States last year. He has
      been succeeded by Adel al-Jubeir, who is said to have
      strong support from the king.

      Prince Turki was never able to match the role of
      Prince Bandar, whom the president, vice president and
      other officials regularly consult on every major
      Middle East initiative — from the approach to Iran to
      the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to Iraq. Prince
      Bandar played a crucial role in securing the use of
      the Prince Sultan Air Base at Al Kharj, roughly 70
      miles outside Riyadh, in the attacks led by the United
      States against Afghanistan and Iraq, despite chafing
      within his government.

      He helped in the negotiations that led to Libya giving
      up its weapons programs, a victory for Mr. Bush. He
      pledged to protect the world economy from oil shocks
      after the invasion, the White House said in 2004, but
      he denied a report, by the author Bob Woodward, that
      he had promised to stabilize oil prices in time for
      Mr. Bush’s re-election campaign.

      The cause of the latest friction in the American-Saudi
      relationship began in 2003, before the invasion of
      Iraq. The Saudis agreed with the Bush view of Saddam
      Hussein as a threat, but voiced concern about
      post-invasion contingencies and the fate of the Sunni
      minority. When it became clear that the administration
      was committed to invading Iraq, Prince Bandar took a
      lead role in negotiations between the Bush
      administration and Saudi officials over securing bases
      and staging grounds.

      But Saudi frustration has mounted over the past four
      years, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated. King
      Abdullah was angry that the Bush administration
      ignored his advice against de-Baathification and the
      disbanding of the Iraqi military. He became more
      frustrated as America’s image in the Muslim world
      deteriorated, because Saudi Arabia is viewed as a
      close American ally.

      Tensions between King Abdullah and top Bush officials
      escalated further when Mr. Bush announced a new energy
      initiative to reduce the nation’s dependence on
      foreign oil during his 2006 State of the Union
      address, and announced new initiatives in that
      direction this year.

      Both American and Saudi officials say that King
      Abdullah clearly values — and uses — Prince Bandar’s
      close relationship with the White House. And that,
      associates said, will dictate what Prince Bandar can

      “Don’t expect the man, because he happens to have an
      American background, not to play the game for his home
      team,” said William Simpson, Prince Bandar’s
      biographer, and a former classmate at the Royal Air
      Force College in England. “The home team is Saudi

      Michael Slackman and Hassan M. Fattah contributed from
      Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Steven R. Weisman from
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