‘We in the kingdom are certain that any questioning of our relationship is short lived because this friendship is based on common interests and shared goals,’ Al-Assaf told a 16 January meeting of the US/Saudi business council in Riyadh.

His comments came as the US Senate armed services committee debated the question of US military personnel stationed in Saudi Arabia. Committee chairman Carl Levin said that the administration should consider alternatives. However, the leading Republican on the committee, John Warner, issued a statement praising Saudi Arabia as ‘a valued partner’ in the Gulf for many years.

Al-Assaf told the council that the effects of falling oil prices on the Saudi economy would be mitigated by the strength of the non-oil private sector, which he said would record growth of some 6 per cent in 2002.