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US loosens security rules for diplomats in Saudi

The United States has eased tight security controls on its diplomats in Saudi Arabia, acknowledging an improvement in security four years after Riyadh squelched an Al-Qaeda campaign of attacks.

world Updated: Jun 27, 2009 13:35 IST

The United States has eased tight security controls on its diplomats in Saudi Arabia, acknowledging an improvement in security four years after Riyadh squelched an Al-Qaeda campaign of attacks.

But restrictions remained tighter than in most other countries as Washington warned in a statement on Friday that "there is an ongoing security threat due to the continued presence of terrorist groups" in the country.

The announcement on the State Department's travel warnings website said diplomats at the US consulate in the eastern city of Dhahran would be able to have their families live with them.

Diplomats in the capital of Riyadh would be able to have adult family members and non-school age children with them.

However, diplomats attached to the consulate in Jeddah, the target of a 2004 attack that left five people dead, would still not be able to have relatives with them.

While not mentioned in the statement, Washington is also allowing diplomatic staff to remain in Saudi Arabia for two years, rather than the one-year tour that had been standard for several years.

"Significant improvements in the capacity and capability of Saudi security and intelligence forces have greatly improved the security environment," the statement said.

"Although much improved, the improvements remain fragile and reversible."

A campaign of attacks on both foreigners and Saudi officials by local Al-Qaeda cells left scores dead over 2003-2006.

But a tough Saudi crackdown on militants and jihadist ideology has reduced the threat significantly, diplomats in Riyadh have said.