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Saudi Official Gives Rare News Conference At Tufts

Saudi Official Gives Rare News Conference At TuftsIn only his second news conference since 9/11, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bandar told an audience at Tufts that he supports U.S. troops in Iraq. Medford/Somerville, Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [10.24.03] Appearing for only the second time since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Saudi Arabia's Royal Highness Prince Bandar bin Sultan held a news briefing at the Fletcher School at Tufts on Thursday. The Ambassador to the United States from Saudi Arabia, Prince Bandar told reporters that he supports U.S. troops in Iraq.

› Listen to the WBUR coverage of the event [here]

"Prince Bandar, the longtime Saudi ambassador to Washington, said Thursday that the U.S. military presence should remain in Iraq for now," reported the Associated Press, in a story that ran in The New York Times, The Boston Globe and London's The Guardian.

The Saudi ambassador said that while he supports the efforts of the U.S. military in Iraq, his nation does not intend to send troops there.

"[Bandar said] Saudi Arabia has no plans to provide any peacekeeping troops and the country's neighbors should follow its lead by staying out of the military aspect," reported the Associated Press.

As the official said at the conference, "We don't want to politicize the stability of Iraq."

Prince Bandar praised the actions of President Bush in driving Saddam Hussein out of power, a revelation that came despite the fact that leaders of Saudi Arabia had previously spoken against the war in Iraq.

"Everybody agreed that he is an evil man, but nobody had the capability to do anything about it, nor the guts." Bandar -- who had made a previous visit to Tufts in 1990 - said at the conference. "I think the United States was the only one capable of doing what was done, and this president had the courage to go with it."

The Saudi ambassador said that relations with his country and the U.S. are strong - despite what he said might appear to be a contentious relationship between the two countries after 9/11.

"Congress? I have fights with them everyday and they have fights with me everyday but at the end of the day we will get together and have dinner and move on with our lives. Same with the federal government, same with the media," Bandar said. "But I think very seriously that the American people think ‘Saudi Arabia is not safe,' and [that Saudis] are not our friends. That cannot be further from the truth.

In an interview with WBUR News, Boston's National Public Radio affiliate, Tufts professor of diplomacy Andrew Hess said that Bandar's comments may be part of an effort by Saudi Arabia to improve relations with the U.S.

"The public opinion in the Arab and Islamic world is hugely against the American position in Iraq, so I thought there would be a little bit more of criticism than we actually got," Hess - director of the Program for Southwest Asia and Islamic Civilization - told WBUR. "I think that the essence of the whole talk was an attempt on the part of Saudi Arabia to repair conditions and relationships with the United States."

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