Saudis indicate willingness to let U.S. use its bases

Foreign minister says if U.N. backs Iraq attack, his country must go along


WASHINGTON - The Saudi foreign minister indicated this weekend that his country would let the Americans use its military bases in a U.N.-backed attack on Iraq, a sign that Arab nations may be dropping their resistance to an attack on Saddam Hussein.

The Saudi minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said that if there was a Security Council resolution backing military action, all U.N. members would have to honor it. "Everybody is obliged to follow through," he told CNN an in interview from New York that was first broadcast late Saturday.

Saud said he remained opposed in principle to the use of military force or a unilateral attack by the United States, but his remarks seemed to indicate an important shift in Saudi Arabia's posture.

Over the weekend, there were several other signs of emerging international consensus that Iraq must take steps to bring itself in line with a decade of U.N. resolutions - on disarmament, an accounting of Persian Gulf war prisoners, protection of its minorities - or face consequences.

The Lebanese foreign minister, Mahmud Hammud, speaking on behalf of Arab foreign ministers who met with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Saturday, said, "We want Iraq to implement the Security Council resolutions, which will end the current crisis."

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt also announced plans to tour the Middle East to gather support for persuading Iraq to let weapons inspectors back in.

For months, Saudi Arabia, a vital ally in the Gulf War in 1991, had said it would deny use of its territory for a U.S. campaign against Iraq this time. But in an interview with the London-based Arabic language newspaper Al Hayat, Saud said, "Since Iraq says it does not possess weapons of mass destruction and has no plans to produce any, why doesn't it agree to the return of inspectors to settle the issue, which will go to the Security Council?"

Senior Bush administration officials reacted yesterday to Prince Saud's comments with both optimism and caution.

"We have seen since the president's speech a rallying of support for his approach, and a coalescence around the idea that the U.N. must act, and it must act against more than a decade of Iraq's flouting of the will of the international community," one official said, referring to President Bush's address at the United Nations on Thursday.

But another added: "Frankly, we haven't seen the comments in any detail yet. It's for the Saudis to explain, and we can't go into it too much just yet."

Agreement on a Security Council resolution or resolutions that might allow the use of military force - either jointly or by individual member nations - is far from certain, but that is the Bush administration's clear goal. Since Bush's speech Thursday, there has been a noticeable shift in Arab sentiment, with Arab nations edging back toward the U.S. posture of putting the onus on Saddam.

Elaborating on the kind of possible language the administration is seeking, Powell said it should be broad enough to encompass military action, suggesting phrases such as "use necessary means," or "member states should feel free."

Both he and Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, said they were open to several approaches, including more than one resolution, and would resume detailed discussions with member nations when Powell returns to New York for more U.N. meetings on Monday, with the hope of beginning drafting by week's end.

France, a permanent member of the Security Council, has floated the idea of a two-step process, with a first resolution finding Iraq in violation of past U.N. demands and requiring compliance, followed by a second on possible military action if Iraq maintains its defiance.

But administration officials have indicated deep wariness of that idea, and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III said in an opinion article published in the Washington Post yesterday, "What is absolutely not acceptable is the idea of two resolutions - one demanding action by Iraq, the second, to come later (maybe), authorizing enforcement."

That, Baker said, "would give Saddam Hussein two bites at the apple, first by stonewalling on compliance and then by fighting the enforcement resolution."

Iraq's foreign minister, Naji Sabri al-Hadithi, again insisted that any new inspections be tied to the lifting of decade-old U.N. sanctions. "Iraq's sovereignty must be respected, and the inspections must result in the easing of sanctions against Iraq and the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, particularly in Israel," he told German television.

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