Saudi Arabia's foreign minister will meet today with President Bush to mend relations strained over the war on terrorism and to ask Bush to declassify portions of a congressional report that many believe implicate Saudi officials in the Sept. 11 attacks, diplomatic sources said Monday.
Prince Saud al Faisal traveled from Riyadh specifically to hand-deliver a written request that Bush declassify portions of the report pertaining to Saudi Arabia so Saudi officials can respond to them, according to sources familiar with the visit.
In question is a 28-page section discussing whether some of the Sept. 11 hijackers received funding and perhaps other help from a foreign government.
Sources familiar with the nearly 900-page report, which was released last week by a joint House-Senate intelligence committee, say the government in question is Saudi Arabia. The still-classified sections, they say, examine whether Saudi officials and wealthy businessmen donated money to charities and other entities that ultimately went to finance the attacks and to help some of the hijackers while they were in the United States.
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi.
Saudi officials have vehemently denied playing any role in the attacks and say they have been a steadfast ally of the United States in the war on terrorism.
"The idea that the Saudi government funded, organized or even knew about Sept. 11 is malicious and blatantly false," Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar ibn Sultan said last week, adding that the Al Qaeda terrorist network, which planned the attacks, also seeks to destroy the Saudi leadership and is an enemy of the state.
"It is my belief that the reason a classified section that allegedly deals with foreign governments is absent from the report is most likely because the information contained in it could not be substantiated," Bandar said. "Saudi Arabia has nothing to hide. We can deal with questions in public, but we cannot respond to blank pages."
The unclassified sections of the report quote a host of U.S. officials as saying the Saudis were unhelpful at best in the years before the attacks, and that they did little to help investigate them for at least 18 months afterward.
Since terrorists attacked three Western residential compounds in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, on May 12, the Saudi government has done an about-face and has committed itself to rooting out Al Qaeda cells within its borders, according to many U.S. officials.
But those officials said details of Saudi Arabia's actions before and after Sept. 11 -- particularly the still-classified sections of the report -- could prove embarrassing to the Persian Gulf kingdom.
Over the last two days, several ranking senators with knowledge of the classified sections of the report also have called for them to be declassified.
Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, urged Bush in a letter Monday to fully declassify the 28-page section.
"That will permit the Saudi government to deal with any questions which may be raised in the currently censored pages, and allow the American people to make their own judgment about who are our true friends and allies in the war on terrorism," Graham wrote.
The chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), suggested Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation" that some aspects of the report were withheld to "protect" Saudi officials.
Also Sunday, Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate banking committee, called for the release of the 28 pages, saying the Bush administration was withholding them because they "might be embarrassing to some international relations."
Shelby, a former ranking member of the Senate intelligence committee, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he "went back and read every one of those pages thoroughly" and concluded that "95% of that information could be declassified."