U.S. seeks to improve religious tolerance

The State Department said Monday Saudi Arabia came very close last week to being placed on a U.S. list of countries officially censured on grounds of religious intolerance.

Instead, the department decided to try to work with Saudi officials to take advantage of any opportunities there may be for improving the state of religious freedom, spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Boucher spoke after Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan said that, as the birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia will not allow churches to be built on its land regardless of the outcry from "fanatics."

The spokesman declined direct comment on Sultan's remark.

The department's annual list of "countries of concern," released last Wednesday, consisted of Burma, China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Sudan. All are repeaters from last year.

Boucher noted that Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah has, on a number of occasions, called for moderation and tolerance among the Saudi people.

He said the United States welcomes those statements. "We'll be working to eliminate language of intolerance, for example, in school textbooks and places like that with them," he said.