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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House, facing a crucial meeting Tuesday with Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, refused to declassify part of an intelligence report on possible links between individuals in the Saudi government and some of the Sept. 11 hijackers.
Declassifying 28 pages of redacted material, as has been requested by the Saudi government and some members of Congress, would "compromise our national security and possibly interfere with the investigation of the events of Sept. 11," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
The decision came against a background of controversy over whether officials in Saudi Arabia had connections with the terrorists.
Saudi Foreign Minister Minister Saud al-Faisal, who flew here Monday, was meeting later in the day with Bush, McClellan said.
The Saudi minister had said that his country has "nothing to hide."
Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., a presidental candidate and the co-chairman of a congressional committee investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, called on Monday for Bush to declassify a section of the 900-page congressional report dealing with foreign support for the hijackers.
But McClellan told reporters, "Based on the recommendation of senior intelligence and law enforcement officials, the committee's request to declassify an additional 28 pages was denied."
"The material included in that section in question contains information about ongoing investigations, counterrrorism operations and sensitive sources and methods," he said
"The adminstration is aggressively pursing every person or every shred of evidence relating to the attacks of Sept 11," McClellan added. "There is an active, sensitive and ongoing investivation under way involving individuals from many countries. We cannot and will not compromise our ability to bring those invovlved to justice."
"The government of Saudi Arabia has asked that additional portions of the inquiry report on 9-11 be declassified. And we understand their concern," McClellan said. "But we cannot agree to that request at this time because of ongoing investigations and our national securiyt interests."
Graham had said that releasing the report would "permit the Saudi government to deal with any questions which may be raised in the currently censored pages, and allow the American people to make their own judgment about who are our true friends and allies in the war on terrorism."
Graham made the request in a Monday letter to Bush.
After the report was released last Thursday, Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan issued a statement saying that "28 blanked-out pages are being used by some to malign our country and our people."
"Saudi Arabia has nothing to hide. We can deal with questions in public, but we cannot respond to blank pages," he said.
Citing those comments, Graham said Bandar "has joined in asking that the pages be declassified."
There was no immediate comment from the White House.
On Tuesday, Graham said he believes that much of the report is being withheld "for political reasons, a key political reason being not to disturb the relationship between the United States and some foreign countries."
"I completely agree with the ambassador from Saudi Arabia that his country would be better served if the people of the world, particularly the citizens of the United States, knew what was the full extent of a foreign government's involvment in the events before 9-11," Graham said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
House and Senate members released the full, 850-page report finding a series of errors and miscommunications kept U.S. authorities from pursuing clues before the attacks. The 28-page section dealing with "sensitive national security matters" was almost entirely redacted.
The information is widely believed to center on Saudi Arabia, birthplace of Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 hijackers. Saudi Arabia has vehemently denied supporting the hijackers.
In discussing the classified section this weekend on "Fox News Sunday" Graham said high officials of a foreign government "made substantial contributions to the support and well-being of two of these terrorists and facilitated their ability to plan, practice and then execute the tragedy of Sept. 11."
He declined to identify the country, citing laws against divulging classified information.
The top Republican senator on the inquiry, Richard Shelby, said Sunday on NBC that 95 percent of the classified pages could be released without jeopardizing national security.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)