Anxious to avoid war, Saudis plot Hussein's ouster

Intelligence aide reported in talks with dictator's son

January 19, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Increasingly desperate to avoid war, Saudi Arabia is engaged in a campaign to incite Iraqi security forces to overthrow Saddam Hussein if he continues to refuse to step down or go into exile, officials here say.

The Saudi leadership is advocating Hussein's removal as part of a war-avoidance strategy even as the kingdom signals Washington that it will cooperate extensively with a U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf, including offering the use of crucial bases and airspace, Saudi officials said last week.

It seemed possible that a number of Arab and Muslim states could join the effort this week as Turkey seeks to assemble Iraq's neighbors for urgent discussions in Ankara, Turkey's capital, with an explicit agenda of averting military conflict, though a number of Saudi officials said they considered averting a conflict to be a remote possibility.

Turkey's prime minister, Abdullah Gul, said Friday that he had encouraged Hussein to consider stepping down.

And a senior Saudi intelligence officer is said to be engaged in discussions with Hussein's son Qusay on a proposal to offer amnesty to the Iraqi leader along with an exile home for members of his extended family.

Iraqi officials have denied that such talks are under way.

New reports of a Saudi plan aimed at heading off a war by encouraging Hussein's removal have circulated in recent days. Saudi officials warned, however, that while they are formulating a general amnesty plan, there is no concrete proposal as yet.

Another adviser to the royal court said senior officials here were pressing the campaign mostly in unofficial statements that they know will be broadcast into Iraq and through private diplomatic and intelligence channels.

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