Bush Visits Saudi Arabia Amid Changing Alliance President Bush visits Saudi Arabia, a nation that has struggled to maintain good relations with Washington and rein in Islamic radicals at home. The al-Qaida attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, sparked animosity and suspicion toward Saudi Arabia, the country of origin for many of the hijackers.

Bush Visits Saudi Arabia Amid Changing Alliance

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NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

PETER KENYON: General Mansour al-Turki, spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry, says security forces have been able to thwart a series of attacks in recent years in part because of much more active assistance from the public.

MONTAGNE: They have recognized that al-Qaida ideology is just an ideology to inflame terrorism rather than trying to set up a new approach for Muslim societies and so on.

KENYON: But Turki also says communication in other areas remains poor. Last week, for instance, the national security adviser in the U.S.-backed government in Iraq announced that hundreds of Saudis had been arrested in Iraq on suspicion of militant activities and were ready to be returned to their homeland. But Turki says Saudis learned about that announcement in the media, because except for an occasional conference, the two security forces rarely communicate.

MONTAGNE: We haven't actually had any normal, regular talks with the Iraqi security people, and sometimes we're surprised, you know, that a Saudi could be arrested in Iraq and then released again inside Iraq.

KENYON: After 9/11, Saudis say, it was the invasion of Iraq that has had the most profound effect on U.S.-Saudi relations. Saleh al-Mani, dean of the college of law and political science at King Saud University, says that invasion and the way it was handled led inevitably to the current crisis with Iran, by removing Saddam Hussein and his Sunni bulwark against the regional ambitions of the Shiite Iranian leadership.

D: The invasion of Iraq has really disturbed the balance of power in the region, absolutely. So we have now a problem with Iran having so much influence in the region and in Iraq.

KENYON: Many Saudis say they're frankly baffled by U.S. policy toward Iran, but they're most worried about another military conflict on their doorstep. Al-Mani says the U.S. would be wise to let diplomacy and sanctions have their full effect because Iranians appear to be getting fed up with hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his allies.

D: There is a strategic change going on in this part of the world, whereby Iran is really trying to play the big card. But they're playing big card, you know, on the military level - and they're losing. It's costing them economically. We have one year left in Ahmadinejad's administration, so I think perhaps the next administration would be much more cooperative, like a Khatami and so on.

KENYON: Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Riyadh.

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