US Senate bill would restrict Saudi diplomatic travel, exports

Maureen Lorenzetti
Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Nov. 21 -- Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and six colleagues Tuesday introduced a bill that restricts Saudi diplomats' travel in the US and discourages US companies from exporting certain defense-related goods to the Kingdom. S. 1888, the Saudi Arabia Accountability Act of 2003, was referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

While the bill does not specifically address energy trade between the two countries, industry lobbyists predicted the legislation could complicate US industry efforts to renegotiate upstream gas projects within Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile analysts said the timing of the bill is ill conceived given that the Saudis are a key oil supplier to the US.

"It is difficult to understand how we would consider the prospect of placing a variety of sanctions on Saudi Arabia that might disturb both political and economic relations between our two countries at a time when Congress is not able to take action leading both to expanded domestic energy supplies and a more efficient use of the energy we do consume," said Robert Ebel, director of the energy program at Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The legislation, for now at least, is largely seen as symbolic since the congressional session is expected to end by middle of next week. But bill sponsors could seek a hearing on a similar proposal when Congress reconvenes in January.

Bill sponsors include Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Susan Collins (R-Me.), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Bob Graham (D-Fla.).

The proposal seeks more cooperation from the Saudi government on the war on terror. And if US President George W. Bush cannot certify to Congress the government is doing the best job it can to halt support for institutions linked to terrorist groups, various sanctions and restrictions could kick in.

These include prohibiting US companies from exporting certain defense articles or services in which a special control license is needed. It also restrict travel of Saudi diplomats assigned to Washington, DC; New York; the Saudi Consulate General in Houston; or the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles to a 25-mile radius of those respective cities.

As is the case with most economic sanctions, the White House could waive sanctions and travel restrictions if President Bush decides it is in the US's national security interest to do so. For the waiver to take effect, however, the White House would have to submit to Congress a report that contains the reasons for such a determination.

Bill sponsors say they want assurances that Saudi Arabia is fully cooperating with the US in the investigation and prevention of terrorist attacks. This includes proof that the country "permanently closed all Saudi-based terror organizations, has ended any funding or other support by the government of Saudi Arabia for any offshore terror organization, and has exercised maximum efforts to block all funding from private Saudi citizens and entities to offshore terrorist organizations."

Contact Maureen Lorenzetti at Maureenl@ogjonline.com.

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