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 Sunday, 29 December, 2002, 06:35 GMT
Saudis 'to let US use bases'
US troops in Saudi Arabia
Saudis have been reluctant to allow US troops on their soil
Saudi Arabia has reportedly agreed to make its airspace, airbases and an important operations centre available to United States forces should war with Iraq occur.

I firmly believe the Saudis will give us all the co-operation we need, and every indication I have is we're getting pretty much what we've asked for

US Air Force chief of staff General John P Jumper
US military commanders told the New York Times newspaper they had been given private assurances that they would be allowed to use a command centre at Prince Sultan Air Base outside the country's capital, Riyadh.

They also said that allied refuelling, reconnaissance, surveillance and cargo planes would be permitted to fly from Saudi bases and to use the nation's airspace for missions in an Iraq war, the newspaper said.

Military officials told the newspaper they were confident that Saudi Arabia would ultimately permit airborne attack missions - the most politically sensitive military issue - to be flown from their soil.

Launch pad

If confirmed, the decision would mark a significant shift for Saudi Arabia, which has previously resisted permitting US troops on its soil.

President Bush and Crown Prince Abdullah
Saudi Arabia is a key strategic US ally
"I firmly believe the Saudis will give us all the co-operation we need, and every indication I have is that we're getting pretty much what we've asked for," US Air Force chief of staff General John P Jumper said in an interview with the newspaper.

A Pentagon spokeswoman would not confirm the officials' assertions, stating only that Saudi Arabia remained a "strong ally", Reuters news agency reported.

Saudi Arabia was a launch pad for the US-led Gulf War in 1991 that drove Iraqi troops out of Kuwait after a seven-month occupation.

Washington could launch an attack on Iraq without using bases inside Saudi Arabia, but the air campaign would be more difficult if the US could not at least use Saudi air space.

Washington has already stepped up its preparations for a possible military offensive, ordering thousands more troops and dozens of fighter aircraft to the Gulf region in the coming weeks.

Relations thaw?

The officials' remarks appear to contradict comments last month by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, who said that Saudi Arabia would not permit US forces to use its airbases for any prospective attack on Iraq, even if the use of force was approved by the United Nations.

The US has examined possible alternative bases for a military assault on Iraq, with a centre recently set up in Qatar.

If confirmed, the Saudi move would also signal a considerable thaw in relations between the two countries, which became strained after it was revealed that most of the hijackers involved in the 11 September attacks came from Saudi Arabia.

There was further US anger when the wife of the Saudi ambassador to America was accused of indirectly financing two of the hijackers.

Saudi Arabia has often been accused by the US of not doing enough to combat international terrorism.


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14 Dec 02 | Americas
13 Dec 02 | Americas
03 Nov 02 | Middle East
07 Dec 02 | Middle East
09 Nov 02 | Middle East
28 Nov 02 | Middle East
02 Nov 02 | Country profiles
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