Saudis Said Plotting Against Saddam

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Increasingly desperate to avoid war, Saudi Arabia is engaged in a campaign to incite Iraqi security forces to overthrow Saddam Hussein if he continues to refuse to step down or go into exile, officials in the Saudi capital of Riyadh tell The New York Times in its Sunday editions.

This as CBS News Correspondent Dan Rather was told in an exclusive interview with chief U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix that the Iraqis on Saturday refused to let U.N. teams take their own helicopters into Iraq's northern no-fly zone without being accompanied by Iraqi choppers.

And that, Blix told Rather, could endanger the U.N. choppers in a no-fly zone.

The U.N.'s top nuclear arms inspector, Mohamed ElBaradei, confirmed to Rather on Saturday that U.N. inspectors this week found papers in the private home of an Iraqi physicist on uranium enrichment of uranium, which could result in a material that could be used in a nucleaer weapon.

U.N. inspectors Saturday examined mobile labs of a type U.S. intelligence believes could be used to make biological weapons, as top U.N. officials prepared for a serious effort to convince Iraq to cooperate and avoid war.

America's top general, meanwhile, said there's still time for Iraq to come clean about its banned weapons programs and avoid an armed attack.

And around the world on Saturday, thousands of people demonstrated for peace.

The Saudi leadership is advocating Saddam's removal as part of a war-avoidance strategy even as the kingdom signals Washington that it will cooperate extensively with an American military buildup in the Persian Gulf, including offering the use of crucial bases and airspace, Saudi officials told the Times this week.

It seemed possible that a number of Arab and Muslim states could join the effort this coming week as Turkey seeks to assemble Iraq's neighbors for urgent discussions in Ankara, Turkey's capital, with an explicit agenda of averting military conflict, though a number of Saudi officials said they considered this a remote possibility, the Times reports.

Turkey's prime minister, Abdullah Gul, said on Friday that he had encouraged Saddam to consider stepping down and, separately, a senior Saudi intelligence officer is said to be engaged in discussions with Saddam's son Qusay, on a proposal to offer amnesty to the Iraqi leader along with an exile home for his members of his extended family, the Times says.

Iraqi officials have denied that such talks are under way.

With Washington increasing pressure on Iraq, U.N. teams visited at least five locations Saturday, including food warehouses owned by the Trade Ministry in central Baghdad. The team examined at least two refrigerator trucks and a trailer, which the site manager, Nawal Nafa'a Fotohi, said were mobile food testing labs.

Such labs are of particular interest because U.S. intelligence believes Iraq is interested in developing mobile "fermentation units" to manufacture biological weapons secretly. U.N. officials had said inspectors would be looking for suspected truck-borne biological weapons laboratories.

Fotohi insisted the labs were used to make sure government food rations were safe, and inspectors would not say if they found anything suspicious. "We are not afraid of anything and we have nothing to hide," Fotohi said.

Among other places, inspectors also visited the Al-Tuwaitha complex, nine miles south of Baghdad, which was at the heart of Iraq's former nuclear program, and the chemical and explosives QaQa Company, 16 miles south of Baghdad.

The U.N. teams returned to Iraq in November after a four-year hiatus to determine if President Saddam Hussein still holds weapons of mass destruction. Iraq denies it is still holding such weapons, banned since the end of the 1991 Gulf War. The United States and Britain disagree and have threatened to disarm Iraq by force if Saddam does not give up those weapons.

U.N. inspectors have complained that Iraq failed to disclose required details of its weapons programs in a 12,000-page declaration submitted in December. U.S. officials maintain that Iraq's failure to submit a complete report is evidence that Saddam has no intention of complying with orders to disarm.

The United States and Britain are moving ships, planes and tens of thousands of troops to the Gulf to reinforce warnings to Baghdad.

With the threat of war mounting, Blix and ElBaradei travel to Baghdad on Sunday to warn Iraq that time is running out. They will report to the U.N. Security Council on Jan. 27.

"Iraq has not cooperated sufficiently with the United Nations weapons inspectors, and we will impress the seriousness of the situation to them," Blix told reporters Saturday in Cyprus. "The world would like to be assured that Iraq is rid of weapons of mass destruction. Until we, the inspectors, have been convinced of that we cannot so report to the Security Council."

U.N. officials have said inspectors have found no conclusive evidence Iraq is holding illegal weapons. However, suspicions have been raised by the discovery Thursday of 12 empty warheads adapted for use as chemical weapons and numerous documents found at the home of an Iraqi physicist.

The physicist, Faleh Hassan, said the documents were from his private research projects and students' theses and he accused the inspectors of "Mafia-like" tactics.

However, ElBaradei told Dan Rather the documents are related to the use of lasers to enrich uranium, possibly for nuclear weapons. ElBaradei said that since the Iraqis had not disclosed information contained in the documents, "it obviously doesn't show the transparency we've been preaching."

In Rome, America's top general insisted Saturday that Jan. 27 was not a deadline for war and that Iraq could still avoid conflict by cooperating with the United Nations.

"Certainly there has been no decision on the U.S. part for conflict in Iraq," Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters. "There is no doubt Iraq still has chemical and biological weapons and a great interest in nuclear weapons."

Myers was to meet with Turkey's top general in Ankara on Monday. The general refused to comment on reports from Turkey that the United States is considering scaling back its request to base tens of thousands of soldiers in that strategic NATO nation for a possible attack on Iraq.

Anti-war sentiment is strong in Muslim Turkey and among America's European allies who have been urging the Bush Administration to give the inspectors more time to complete their work and avoid an imminent war.

Turkey is seeking to organize a summit next week in Ankara among leaders from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Jordan and Egypt in an attempt to find a peaceful solution to the Iraq situaton.

In Baghdad, Saddam said Saturday that any war against the United States would be decided on the ground, but warned army commanders that Iraqi forces could be hurt by Washington's abilities to fight "from afar."

The meeting was the latest in a series of meetings over the past week between the Iraqi leader and armed forces and militia commanders. Saturday's meeting was attended by his son Qusay, who is in charge of the elite Republican Guard corps, and Defense Minister Sultan Hashem Ahmed. Some two dozen senior army officers were also present.

Saddam, whose address was broadcast on state-run television, did not mention the United States by name, referring to it in his customary fashion as "the enemy" or "the evil ones."

Protesters rallied by the thousands Saturday in Washington and in capitals around the world to demand that the United States back down from the threat of war. Many of the rallies, however, drew modest crowds of a few thousand rather than the huge marches common during the Vietnam War a generation ago.

On Saturday for the second successive day, some 300 members of the Iraqi Journalists' Union staged a protest outside the offices of the United Nations inspectors' Baghdad hotel.

In the Syrian capital of Damascus, tens of thousands of people marched through the streets carrying anti-American and anti-Israeli banners, attacking U.S. support for the Jewish state.
  • John Esterbrook

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