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Saudis Veto Role In Iraq Attack

Saudi Arabia has made clear to Washington — publicly and privately — that the U.S. military will not be allowed to use the kingdom's soil in any way for an attack on Iraq, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said Wednesday.

Saud said in an interview with The Associated Press that his country opposes any U.S. operation against Iraq "because we believe it is not needed, especially now that Iraq is moving to implement United Nations resolutions."

"We have told them we don't (want) them to use Saudi grounds" for any attack on Iraq, he said.

With speculation building about possible U.S. military action. Iraq last week invited U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix to Baghdad for talks that could lead to a resumption of the inspections after more than 3½ years.

President Bush has said he is committed to a regime change in Iraq, and Washington has dismissed the Blix invitation as a ploy.

In a letter replying to the Iraqi offer, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told Baghdad it must accept the Security Council's terms for the return of weapons inspectors.

Under U.N. Security Council resolutions, sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait cannot be lifted until U.N. inspectors certify that Iraq's biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons have been destroyed along with the long-range missiles to deliver them.

The United States reportedly has quietly moved munitions, equipment and communications gear to the al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar from Saudi Arabia in recent months, concerned the kingdom would not lend its full support to military action.

Arab nations uniformly have come out against a U.S. military campaign to oust Saddam Hussein, even though there is little love regionally for the Iraqi leader. Most Arab nations joined the U.S.-led Gulf War coalition that liberated Kuwait in 1991, with Saudi Arabia inviting U.S. troops to the oil-rich kingdom to help defend it against Saddam's forces.

On Wednesday, Saud denied any speculation that Saudi Arabia might privately support action to remove Saddam despite its public opposition.

He said the private line to Washington was no different from the public remarks:

"We couldn't have made our position more clear, our leaders have said this and everybody responsible in the kingdom has said this."

"For the government of Iraq, the leadership of Iraq, any change that happens there has to come from the Iraqi people. This is our attitude," Saud said.

Opposition to U.S. action against Iraq has also been growing more vocal in Europe.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder this week came out against an attack. In an interview published Wednesday, he said military action would wreck the international coalition, throw the Mideast into turmoil and hurt the economy.

A government minister in Britain, a country seen as Mr. Bush's strongest supporter against Iraq, suggested Baghdad's gesture to readmit inspectors could make military action unnecessary.

While getting rid of Saddam is desired, "what is important is that we focus on getting the inspectors in and we make sure that the threat of weapons of mass destruction is dealt with," Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien said.

Saud's remarks come just after a report by a Pentagon advisory board surfaced accusing Saudi Arabia of not doing enough to combat terror. That report prompted ringing defenses of the kingdom by the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House.

Saudi Arabia said on Wednesday that despite the report, its ties with the United States remained "excellent in all fields."

The report, prepared by an analyst for Rand, a U.S.-financed research group, said Saudi Arabia should be given an ultimatum to stop supporting terror or face retaliation.

Saudi diplomats and commentators said the report was leaked deliberately by hawks in Washington to put pressure on the oil-rich kingdom, which has publicly opposed U.S. policies on the Arab-Israeli conflict and Iraq.

"Unfortunately, there are people in certain departments who try to raise doubts and shake the strong historical ties between our two countries," Prince Saud said in a statement carried by the state media.

"I am confident that they will not succeed," he continued. "The Saudi-American relationship of friendship and alliance that goes back 60 years is excellent in all fields."

The official media said Saud thanked Secretary of State Colin Powell, who phoned him on Tuesday with assurances that President Bush did not view Riyadh as an enemy.

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