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Saudis Cave and Tell U.S. OK to use Saudis Bases Afterall



SAUDIS PUT HEAT ON SADDAM

HEAT ON IRAQ AS SAUDIS SAY US MAY USE BASES

Nicholas Watt and Brian Whitaker

[The Guardian - UK - Monday September 16, 2002]: Saddam Hussein was facing intense pressure last night after Saudi Arabia indicated that American forces would be free to attack Iraq from bases on its soil if Baghdad rejects a fresh United Nations resolution on weapons inspectors.

As Washington declared that world leaders were throwing their weight behind George Bush's call for "tough" UN action, Saudi Arabia highlighted the new atmosphere by softening its stance on the use of US bases in the kingdom.

Weeks after warning that the US would not be able to use its bases in Saudi Arabia to attack Iraq, the Saudi foreign minister used an interview with CNN to make it clear that permission would be granted if Washington was acting under UN auspices. Asked whether the US would be free to use military bases in the kingdom if Iraq refused to comply with a fresh UN security council resolution, Prince Saud al-Faisal said: "Everybody is obliged to follow through."

His remarks are likely to transform relations between Washington and Riyadh, which have been strained after it emerged that most of the September 11 hijackers came from the kingdom. Saudi Arabia is likely to argue, however, that its announcement is not a u-turn because it would regard American forces as UN troops if Iraq defies a fresh resolution. The prince also made clear that Saudi Arabia still opposes the toppling of the Iraqi regime.

British sources last night welcomed the kingdom's announcement as a sign of the improved atmosphere in the wake of Mr Bush's decision to consult the security council.

Colin Powell, the US secretary of state, claimed yesterday that world leaders were now lining up to call for firm action against Iraq if it defies the will of the UN.

Speaking after talks at the weekend with his counterparts from the other 14 members of the UN security council, Mr Powell told NBC's Meet the Press programme: "I got good responses from all the people I talked to. We had a very good dialogue and I'm pleased with the initial reactions from friends and colleagues in Europe and elsewhere."

His remarks came after foreign ministers from the Arab League called on President Saddam to avoid a military confrontation by allowing UN weapons inspectors to return. Iraq's foreign minister, Naji Sabri, reportedly told the league that Baghdad was ready to comply, though he said that conditions would have to be met.

The call by the Arab League was echoed by Prince Saud al-Faisal who told the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper that Iraq should readmit the inspectors before a security council resolution was drawn up. "Timing is important, and allowing the inspectors back before a security council resolution to that effect would be in Iraq's favour," the Saudi foreign minister said. "We are afraid that [a refusal] would harm the Iraqi people and increase their burden. We are worried about Iraq's unity, stability and independence."

Britain is to take the lead in the next week in drawing up a fresh security council resolution calling on Baghdad to allow UN weapons inspectors, who last visited Iraq in 1998, unfettered access. The resolution will indicate that Iraq will face military action if it fails to comply, although this is expected to be spelt out in diplomatic language. This is designed to persuade China, Russia and France - permanent members of the security council with a power of veto - not to block the resolution.

Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, spoke yesterday of "very positive" discussions with the council's permanent members. He said the resolution would have three core elements:

to "recite" all the UN resolutions Iraq has ignored, which amounts to a "material breach" of the will of the security council;

to call on Iraq to readmit inspectors "without condition and without restrictions";

to make clear to Iraq that it will face "consequences" if it defies the UN.

Speaking on BBC1's Breakfast with Frost, Mr Straw said that Iraq could avoid a military confrontation: "Allowing [the inspectors] to do their job without restrictions and without conditions - then the case for military action recedes to the point almost of invisibility," Mr Straw said.

But British sources remain sceptical of the chances of Baghdad complying. If Iraq again defies the UN, Mr Straw warned, Britain will endorse the US policy of "regime change". "Either [Saddam] deals with those weapons of mass destruction or his regime will have to end," he said. "The choice is his. He hasn't got much time to make up his mind."

Such remarks show that there is still a gulf between Britain, the US and the Arab world, despite the growing consensus on weapons inspectors. Arab countries are opposed to the US policy of "regime change" in Iraq.



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