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Sun 25 Jan 2009 02:38 AM

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US-Saudi ties under threat

Saudi warns that its ties with US are in danger as a result of American support for the Gaza war.

The close relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia is under threat after Washington supported Israel's onslaught on the Gaza Strip, a senior Saudi prince warned on Saturday.

Prince Turki al-Faisal told CNN television that the US needs to change its tune and exert more pressure on Israel or face a deterioration in its relations with the Middle East .He called Israel's three-week assault on Gaza, which Palestinians say killed more than 1,300 people in the densely populated enclave, "barbaric" and a "catastrophe."

Prince Turki said the new US administration of President Barack Obama must also press Israel to accept an Arab peace plan or lose the Arab world's confidence.

"I think this is one of the issues that makes the relationship between the Arab world in general and Saudi Arabia in particular threatened when it comes to dealing with the United States," he said.

"The relationship that has kept America and the Arab world going for the last 17 years is in danger."

He said former president George W. Bush "callously and unforgivably gave Israel a green light to do everything that they wanted to do in Gaza without restraint."

He said he had hopes for Obama, but needed to see real steps on the ground, including Washington and Israel agreeing to negotiate with Hamas, the Islamist group which controls Gaza but which the US labels a terrorist organisation.

"We need to see facts on the ground change. We need to see rhetoric change. We need to see presence on the ground.

"President Obama can do something and gain the confidence and support of the Arab and Muslim nations by showing that he has done things on the ground and not simply expressed a wish for that."

Prince Turki, who has been ambassador to both London and Washington and now oversees a prominent research centre, stressed that he was not speaking for Saudi Arabia.

But diplomats and analysts consider his views reflect important currents within the Riyadh government.

He spoke a day after writing in an opinion piece in the Financial Times daily that Saudis may join "jihad" if Washington does not put more pressure on Israel, including condemning its Gaza offensive.

"If the US wants to continue playing a leadership role in the Middle East and keep its strategic alliances intact -- especially its 'special relationship' with Saudi Arabia -- it will have to drastically revise its policies vis a vis Israel and Palestine," he wrote.

He wrote that the Gaza war united the region's Muslims, and pointed to a call by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for Saudi Arabia "to lead a jihad against Israel."

If pursued, he said, such a campaign would "create unprecedented chaos and bloodshed in the region."

"So far, the kingdom has resisted these calls, but every day this restraint becomes more difficult to maintain."

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