Saudis favor sanctions on Iraq even after pullout

January 06, 1991|By Robert Ruby | Robert Ruby,Sun Staff Correspondent

DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia -- Even if Saddam Hussein agrees to withdraw Iraqi forces from all of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia appears determined to support a continuation of economic sanctions against Iraq until Mr. Hussein loses power and his country's military strength is reduced.

That stand is part of an increasingly hard-line policy emerging here, as prominent Saudis say their government is convinced that normal relations with Iraq will remain impossible until Mr. Hussein is defeated in a war, resigns or is overthrown.

The harder line reflects enormous anxieties in the kingdom about problems Saudi Arabia would face if Mr. Hussein were to remain Iraq's leader or if Iraq's military remained intact.

If Mr. Hussein continued as president, Saudi Arabia would continue to need U.S. troops to guarantee its security, a long-term foreign presence that Saudis reject as politically impossible for a conservative Muslim state. Outside help would be necessary even if Mr. Hussein were replaced but Iraq's military strength remained unchanged.

Hence, Saudis make no secret of their desire for Mr. Hussein to be assassinated or otherwise removed from power. Their support for sanctions is based on the hope that they would cause sufficient privation to bring about a coup.

Saudis predict that, over time, sanctions would reduce Iraq's military capabilities and would be a necessary safeguard until formal talks were convened to lead to lasting changes in the region's military balance.

"If Saddam is not completely out of the light, we will not feel completely safe," said Saleh Al-Malek, head of a social research center and a former deputy Cabinet minister. "I think economic sanctions can affect him -- he cannot stand the heat. I think he could easily be assassinated earlier rather than later."

Saudi Arabia is banking on Mr. Hussein's becoming weaker and apparently is searching for ways to undermine him to speed his fall. Mr. Al-Malek, who spoke as a member of a panel organized by the Ministry of Information, said that even if Mr. Hussein gave up Kuwait, Saudi Arabia would withhold all aid to Iraq, in hopes of increasing dissent.

Saudis also expect that, to maintain the pressure against Mr. Hussein, their government will continue to reject Iraq's attempts to link a withdrawal to discussion of the Palestinian issue.

"Those are two different topics," said Ahmed M. Jamjoon, director of a newspaper publishing house and a former minister of commerce. "The Palestinian problem has to be solved, but it does not justify anybody taking over a country."

Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, who is to meet Secretary of State James A. Baker III in Geneva Wednesday, has said an Iraqi pullout would have to be tied to promises of future talks about the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

While the government has made no official comment about the U.S. announcement of the meeting, Saudis on the government-sponsored panel said they did not expect satisfying results. They also expressed doubts that Mr. Aziz would give an accurate report to Mr. Hussein.

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