Cheney is warned by Saudi leadership

Crown prince opposes any military plans in Iraq

March 17, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

JIDDA, Saudi Arabia - Even before Air Force Two touched down in Saudi Arabia yesterday, Vice President Dick Cheney received a public warning from the Saudi leadership that the Bush administration should put aside any plans for a military campaign against Iraq.

"I do not believe it is in the United States' interests, or the interest of the region, or the world's interest to do so," Crown Prince Abdullah told ABC News. "And I don't believe it will achieve the desired result. The same applies to Iran."

With his recent remarks, the crown prince has joined the chorus of very public Arab warnings to Washington about its talk of possible military action to oust Saddam Hussein and put an end to his programs to develop nuclear, biological and chemical weapons for Iraq.

At nearly every stop in the Arab world, Cheney has been cautioned against U.S. military action to topple Hussein. The warnings were made in news conferences, press statements or, in the case of Saudi Arabia, in several television interviews that were broadcast on the eve of Cheney's visit.

Before visiting Saudi Arabia, Cheney stopped yesterday in the United Arab Emirates for a meeting with the leader of that Persian Gulf state, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Sheik Zayed also said he opposed a U.S. strike against Iraq and urged efforts to quell the fighting between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

U.S. officials said before Cheney's trip to the Middle East that they thought Arab leaders would eventually acquiesce in a U.S. military campaign against Iraq, even if they publicly disapproved of it.

American support for military action appears strong. More than half support U.S. military action to attempt to remove Hussein - even without allied support, according to a Time-CNN poll, the results of which were released yesterday, the Associated Press reported. In the poll, 1,014 adults were surveyed Wednesday and Thursday. It has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

But the persistence and public nature of the Arab response suggests that the Bush administration has considerable work ahead of it before it can claim Arab support for a campaign against Iraq.

At a minimum, it appears that the United States needs to make another effort through the United Nations to persuade Iraq to re-admit U.N. weapons inspectors. Only after a determined effort to secure the admission of the inspectors, it seems, might there be any support for a tougher policy toward Iraq, though President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was the only one to hint at such a possibility.

After arriving early yesterday evening, Cheney met with King Fahd. Cheney was scheduled to meet later yesterday with Abdullah, who became the de facto ruler of the country after King Fahd had a stroke in 1995.

Cheney's meetings here are important in several respects. The United States needs close ties with the Saudis to encourage progress toward a peace settlement in the Middle East, to prevent Osama bin Laden's organization from reconstituting and to forge a tough policy on Iraq.

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