Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal (search) told Fox News Wednesday that he doesn't think President Bush is withholding pages from the Sept. 11 report in order to protect the Saudis, an oft-repeated suggestion by those who want the 28 pages declassified.
"Anybody who thinks this president, with the position he has on terrorism, would cover up anybody culpable in 9-11 must have a hole in his head," the prince said.
Al-Faisal left the White House Tuesday, saying he was disappointed with the president's decision to not declassify those pages of the report, but that he understood the decision.
The Saudis want the pages declassified, arguing that they can't defend themselves against accusations that they can't see.
"We have nothing to hide and do not seek nor need to be shielded. We believe that releasing the missing 28 pages would allow us to respond to any allegations in a clear and credible manner, and remove any doubts about the kingdom's true role in the war against terrorism and its commitment to fight it," he said, after a two-hour meeting with the president to discuss the report released last week by the Joint Intelligence Committee (search).
In a brief appearance following the meeting, al-Faisal slammed those who allege the redacted information covered up Saudi misdeeds, saying insinuations that his government was linked to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks is "an outrage to any sense of fairness" and that his country has been "wrongfully and morbidly accused of complicity in the attacks."
"Twenty-eight blank pages are now considered substantial evidence to proclaim the guilt of a country that has been a true friend and partner of the United States for over 60 years," the foreign minister said.
After his meeting with the president, al-Faisal spoke for about an hour with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (search). He said she told him U.S. authorities want to question Omar Bayoumi (search), an employee of the Saudi aviation authority who befriended two of the Saudi hijackers on their arrival in California.
Unclassified sections of the report released said that al-Bayoumi paid many of the expenses of two hijackers, "had access to seemingly unlimited funding from Saudi Arabia" and was suspected of being an agent for Saudi Arabia "or another foreign power."
Several lawmakers, including Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., have urged Bush to request that al-Bayoumi be returned from Saudi Arabia for questioning.
Al-Faisal said he told Rice that FBI and CIA agents in Saudi Arabia could freely question Bayoumi, who was questioned already by American, British and Saudi investigators. They found "no proof" of a connection to the terror attacks, al-Faisal told reporters at the Saudi Embassy.
"We are glad that the president has asked Saudi Arabia to let the FBI question Omar al-Bayoumi, but the devil will be in the details," Schumer said. "Saudi Arabia needs to allow the FBI to interrogate al-Bayoumi here in the United States and without any Saudi officials present."
Earlier Tuesday, Bush declined to declassify the blank pages, saying to do so would "help the enemy" in the global war on terror.
"There's an ongoing investigation into the 9/11 attacks and we don't want to compromise that investigation," Bush said during a Rose Garden press briefing with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"If people are being investigated it doesn't make sense for us to let them know who they are. Secondly, we have an ongoing war against Al Qaeda and terrorists, and the declassification of that part of a 900-page document would reveal sources and methods that will make it harder for us to win the war on terror," Bush said.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the former vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, disagreed, reiterating Tuesday his view that "90, 95 percent of it would not compromise, in my judgment, anything in national security."
Bush did not respond to questions about Shelby's assessment, but had earlier said "at some point in time down the road, after the investigations are fully complete and if it doesn't jeopardize our national security" the pages could perhaps be made public.
Al-Faisal said Bush assured him that the pages would eventually be released "in a clear and credible manner."
On Wednesday, he told Fox News that he hopes the administration acts quickly to release the information.
"I can understand his reasoning, but I can't accept it for my country. But this is the affair of the United States. We hope he would see his way through to releasing it soon, however, because we think it does great injustice to us," al-Faisal said.
Al-Faisal added that those who suggest the Saudis are behind Al Qaeda are not paying attention to all the kingdom has done to stop terrorism. He added that the Al Qaeda leadership is luring Saudis to the cause in order to expend them.
"It is the design of the terrorists who have been Saudis exactly to see happen what is happening, to have suspicion between us. We look at the leadership of Al Qaeda, how many Saudis are in the leadership? There is a former Saudi, who is bin Laden, but all the others are not Saudis. How come they only had Saudis in those airplanes?" he asked.
The redacted materials are said to contain information that could be embarrassing to foreign governments.
Unclassified portions say that since 1996, "it was clear from about 1996 that the Saudi government would not cooperate with the United States on matters related to Usama bin Laden," referring to the man thought to be the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks and other offenses launched against U.S. interests.
The White House source said even if the section were completely declassified, the Saudis would not come out smelling like a rose. But, the official said, the blank pages may encourage people to imagine the worst and that's not a true picture either.
Fifteen of the 19 Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers were Saudi and the report suggests some had support from Saudi officials, though some of that - for instance, money the Saudi ambassador's wife gave to a charity that was funneled to two of the hijackers - may have been inadvertent.
Still, Bush said the war on terror is more important than the Saudis' image concerns.
The White House's declassification decision raised some eyebrows.
"I think we should have the information but we don't need it right now," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, told Fox News Tuesday. "I have questioned the 'Saudi cooperation' … I wish that the Saudis would step up to the plate and say firmly that they are stepping up to Al Qaeda."
"Today's decision not to declassify additional portions of the report is a disservice to the American people," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement. "This administration has an obsession with secrecy, and this report is overclassified."
"It really does put the onus on the White House and makes you wonder what they're trying to hide," Newsweek contributing editor Eleanor Clift told Fox News. "My speculation is they're trying to avoid political embarrassment."
Bill Sammon, White House reporter for The Washington Times, also questioned why - if the relationship between the United States and the desert kingdom is supposedly so good - would the Bush administration keep information about the country a secret.
"It's a little puzzling that the White House would take that position - both sides want it out," Sammon said, referring to Congress and the Saudi government.
Sammon pointed out that with the current policy snafus tainting the Bush White House, including reports of Iraqi intelligence flaps, "the last thing [Bush] needs is a controversy over these 28 pages."
But Richard Murphy, a former U.S. ambassador, said it's not likely elitists in the Saudi government and Saudi royals want to support Al Qaeda, since the terror network has targeted the Middle Eastern country just as much as the United States in attacks such as the recent Riyadh bombings.
"They're not going to [be] financing or indulging any attacks from Al Qaeda," Murphy told Fox News.
Wyche Fowler, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, stressed that Bush is doing what he believes is in the best interest of U.S. national security and is likely protecting information regarding other Arab states "that must help us if we want to get the upper hand" in the war on terror.
Fox News' Wendell Goler and The Associated Press contributed to this report.