Senior Saudi rulers believe the United States has "overstayed its welcome" and that other forms of less conspicuous military cooperation should be devised once the United States has completed its war in Afghanistan, according to a senior Saudi official.
Saudis give several reasons for deciding that the Americans should leave, beginning with their desire to appear self-reliant and not dependent on U.S. military support. The American presence has become a political liability in domestic politics and in the Arab world, Saudi officials say. The Saudi government has also become increasingly uncomfortable with a role in U.S. efforts to contain Saddam Hussein.
The withdrawal of U.S. aircraft would end an American presence that began during the Persian Gulf War and, administration officials warn, would seriously undermine America's ability to protect Saudi Arabia or Kuwait as well as carry out all future operations in Iraq.
Past and present U.S. officials have said a Saudi decision to ask the Americans to pull forces out of their country could also complicate the Saudi-American relationship, which was put under great strain by the events of Sept. 11, and appear to give the impression of rewarding Osama bin Laden, who has vilified the royal family for hosting American troops, about 5,000 at the present time.
Saudi officials who spoke about a U.S. withdrawal emphasized that nothing would be done precipitously. They said Crown Prince Abdullah was sensitive to the need to avoid creating the impression that he was responding to pressure from bin Laden. These Saudis emphasized that Saudi-American relations would remain close and would continue to include a military component.
U.S. troops went to Saudi Arabia in 1990 to fight the Persian Gulf War against Iraq at a moment when both countries feared that Iraq might march from Kuwait into the kingdom. The two governments never signed an agreement about their presence in the country. Though it has long been considered an intimate ally of the United States, Saudi Arabia is the only Persian Gulf nation with which the United States has no formal defense cooperation agreement. "The Saudis argue, 'We're such good friends, there's no reason to put anything in writing,'" said a Defense Department official who has worked intimately with Saudi Arabia.
Sources: AP, The Washington Post.