Former Vice President Al Gore told a mainly Saudi audience on Sunday that the U.S. government committed "terrible abuses" against Arabs after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and that most Americans did not support such treatment.
Gore said Arabs had been "indiscriminately rounded up" and held in "unforgivable" conditions. The former vice president said the Bush administration was playing into Al Qaeda's hands by routinely blocking Saudi visa applications.
"The thoughtless way in which visas are now handled, that is a mistake," Gore said during the Jiddah Economic Forum. "The worst thing we can possibly do is to cut off the channels of friendship and mutual understanding between Saudi Arabia and the United States."
Gore told the largely Saudi audience, many of them educated at U.S. universities, that Arabs in the United States had been "indiscriminately rounded up, often on minor charges of overstaying a visa or not having a green card in proper order, and held in conditions that were just unforgivable."
"Unfortunately there have been terrible abuses and it's wrong," Gore said. "I do want you to know that it does not represent the desires or wishes or feelings of the majority of the citizens of my country."
On Iran, Gore complained of "endemic hyper-corruption" among Tehran's religious and political elite and asked Arabs to take a stand against Iran's nuclear program.
Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes but the United States and other Western countries suspect Tehran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.
"Is it only for the West to say this is dangerous?" Gore asked. "We should have more people in this region saying this is dangerous."
Several audience members criticized the United States for what they described as "unconditional" U.S. support for Israel, saying U.S. diplomats helped Israel flout U.N. resolutions that they enforced when the measures targeted Arabs.
Gore refused to be drawn into questions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"We can't solve that long conflict in exchanges here," Gore said.
Also at the forum, the vice chairman of Chevron Corp., Peter Robertson, said President Bush's desire to cut U.S. dependence on Mideast oil shows a "misunderstanding" of global energy supply and the critical role of Saudi Arabia.
In his State of the Union address this month, Bush pledged to cut U.S. dependence on Middle East oil by 75 percent by 2025.
"This notion of being energy independent is completely unreasonable," Robertson said at the economic forum, which opened Saturday.
"I believe Middle Eastern oil can and must play a certain role in the system," Robertson said. "Saudi Arabia's massive resources will continue to promote international energy security and serve as a moderating force in balancing supply and demand."
Cherie Blair, wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, made a plea at the forum for women's rights, telling Saudi leaders that the dearth of women in the work force was "undermining economic potential" of the kingdom.
Irish President Mary McAleese urged Saudi Arabia to learn from Ireland's economic transformation, which hinged on opening the country to the outside world and ushering women into the workplace.