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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Saudi Officials Concede Security "Shortcomings"

Aired May 14, 2003 - 19:34   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, since the bombings, we have learned that security at the Riyadh housing complex left much to be desired, to say the least, and that the Saudis ignored U.S. requests to do something about it. Today that led to some unusually undiplomatic criticism.
Here's State Department correspondent, Andrea Koppel -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, from Washington to Riyadh, the accusations were flying.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL (voice-over): Only days after suicide bombers killed at least eight Americans, the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia leveled unusually blunt criticism at his Saudi hosts.

Robert Jordan said before Monday's attacks, the U.S. embassy had asked the Saudis to step up security around lightly-guarded expatriate housing compounds. In an interview, Jordan said, "I obviously would have preferred a quicker response to our request for additional security."

But Saudi Arabia's ambassador told CNN his government did address U.S. concerns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When he made the request our security agencies took the request seriously, assessed the situation and decided the measures were adequate.

KOPPEL: Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said he had not received the request, but did go on to deliver a rare mea culpa.

SAUD AL-FAISAL, SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): We have to look within, not only as leaders, but all of those citizens in order to do what is necessary, in order to confront terrorism.

KOPPEL: CNN has learned it was its lack of confidence in Saudi security that prompted the State Department to order the departure of nonessential U.S. personnel and family members from all U.S. diplomatic posts in the Saudi kingdom.

Despite last week's bust by Saudi authorities of this cache of explosives and weapons, and a public appeal to apprehend 19 suspected terrorists, some U.S. officials say the kingdom could have done a lot more and was in denial terrorists would strike on Saudi soil. Privately, U.S. officials also highlight cultural differences, noting the wheels of Saudi bureaucracy turn extremely slowly and orders to, for instance, increase security around Western compounds, aren't implemented quickly unless they come from the top.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: Saudi Arabia must deal with the fact that it has terrorists inside it's own country and their presence is as much a threat to Saudi Arabia as it is to Americans and others who live and work in Saudi Arabia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL: U.S. officials say this week's suicide bombings were a major wake-up call for Saudi's rulers and they say that the big question now is whether the bombings will bring about greater U.S.- Saudi cooperation or cause further fissures.

Either way, one U.S. official said, Anderson, it is a breaking point -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Andrea Koppel, thank you very much tonight.

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