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 Monday, 30 December, 2002, 11:33 GMT
Saudis deny letting US use bases
US troops in Saudi Arabia
Saudis are reluctant to allow US troops on their soil
Saudi Arabia has denied reports that it will make its airspace, airbases and an important operations centre available to the US for a possible war against Iraq.

In remarks on Monday, both the foreign minister and the deputy defence minister said there was no change in Saudi Arabia's position.

We have no commitments on any matters towards Iraq

Abdul-Rahman bin Abdul-Aziz
Deputy Defence Minister

The kingdom remains opposed to a war against Iraq, but has said it may review its options if the UN passes a resolution explicitly authorising the use of force.

Senior US officials quoted by the New York Times newspaper have said they had been given private assurances that they would be allowed to use a command centre outside the country's capital, Riyadh, rights to overfly Saudi territory - and ultimately mount airborne attacks from Saudi bases.

BBC regional analyst Roger Hardy says the Saudi rulers are nervous about domestic opposition to a war - but anxious to repair their relations with the Americans, badly strained since the 11 September 2001 attacks.

No change

According to the New York Times, US officials 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.

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.

But the senior Saudi officials were unequivocal in their denial of any agreement with the US on Iraq.

President Bush and Crown Prince Abdullah
Saudi Arabia is a key strategic US ally
"The truth is what I said, not what the [New York Times] newspaper reported," Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters during a visit to Sudan.

"Even if the [UN] Security Council issues a unanimous decision to attack Iraq, we hope a chance will be given to the Arab states to find a political solution to this issue," Prince Saud said.

Deputy Defence Minister Prince Abdul-Rahman bin Abdul-Aziz said the New York Times remarks were "incorrect".

"We have no commitments on any matters towards Iraq," Prince Abdul-Rahman was quoted as saying by the daily Okaz.

Although the US has been upgrading a base in neighbouring Qatar as a possible alternative, it would still like to use the Saudi base to co-ordinate an air campaign against Iraq, our analyst says.

He says that, characteristically, the Saudi ruling family does not like the issue to be talked about in public.

Thaw

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 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.

US-Saudi relations 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.

But US officials still insist Riyadh is an ally.


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29 Dec 02 | Middle East
03 Nov 02 | Middle East
07 Dec 02 | Middle East
28 Nov 02 | Middle East
02 Nov 02 | Country profiles
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