King Abdullah's harsh - and unexpected - attack on the US military presence in Iraq could be a Saudi attempt to signal to Washington its anger over the situation in Iraq and build credibility among fellow Arabs.
The kingdom has taken an aggressive leadership role to quiet Mideast troubles, and wanted to show other Arabs it was willing to put their interests above its close ties to the United States.
The White House, in a rare public retort Thursday, rejected the king's characterization of US troops in Iraq as an "illegitimate foreign occupation," saying the United States was not in Iraq illegally.
"The United States and Saudi Arabia have a close and cooperative relationship on a wide range of issues," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. "And when it comes to the coalition forces being in Iraq, we are there under the UN Security Council resolutions and at the invitation of the Iraqi people."
"We disagree with them," US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told senators. "We were a little surprised to see those remarks."