- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 28, 2002

CRAWFORD, Texas President Bush told Saudi Arabia's ambassador yesterday that Saddam Hussein is a "menace to world peace," but the Saudi regime remained opposed to a U.S. military strike against Iraq.

Mr. Bush denounced Saddam during an hourlong meeting with Prince Bandar bin Sultan at the president's Prairie Chapel Ranch.

"The president made it very clear again that he believes Saddam Hussein is a menace to world peace, a menace to regional peace," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.

After the meeting, a Saudi spokesman made clear that the kingdom had not been swayed from its opposition to U.S. military action against Iraq.

Adel al-Jubeir, foreign policy adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, said the United States should instead wait for Saddam to allow the resumption of U.N. inspections for weapons of mass destruction.

"There are negotiations under way between the U.N. and the Iraqis on letting the inspectors back," Mr. al-Jubeir told CNN. "If we can achieve the objective of having the inspectors on the ground and dismantling his weapons-of-mass-destruction program, we will have done so without firing a single bullet or losing one single life."

But Vice President Richard B. Cheney declared on Tuesday that a return of weapons inspectors to Iraq would provide "no assurance whatsoever" that Saddam has given up his pursuit of nuclear weapons and should not avert "pre-emptive action" by the United States.

Mr. Fleischer later cautioned that the vice president "did not make the case for pre-emptive attack; he made the case for pre-emptive doctrine."

But responding to questions from The Washington Times, Mr. Fleischer acknowledged yesterday that the administration's "pre-emptive doctrine" encompasses a pre-emptive military attack. Asked what other kinds of action could be taken, he declined to specify.

On the eve of the meeting, Mr. Bush telephoned Prince Abdullah to disavow a private defense analyst's recommendation to a Pentagon advisory board that the United States threaten Saudi Arabia with retaliation unless it stops supporting terrorism.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in the September 11 attacks were Saudis, and the kingdom has given money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

This has led to widespread criticism of Saudi Arabia by U.S. commentators. In an effort to quell rising Saudi anger over such criticism, Mr. Bush told the crown prince that it was irresponsible and did not reflect the sentiments of the administration.

As the president was appeasing the Saudis, the kingdom issued a list of its accomplishments in the war against terrorism. The move was aimed at countering anti-Saudi sentiment in the United States.

The nine-page document said that the royal family and the state-run media have "publicly and consistently condemned terrorism." It also cites the arrest of 2,800 terrorism suspects by Saudi authorities, including 200 who are being detained for interrogation.

The statement also said that Saudi Arabia has worked with the United States to block more than $70 million in suspected terrorist assets around the globe. The kingdom has frozen 150 bank accounts suspected of being linked to terrorists.

Public relations initiatives aside, the two nations remained far apart on the question of military action against Iraq. Mr. al-Jubeir spent much of the day making a point-by-point rebuttal of Mr. Cheney's speech, the most comprehensive argument by the administration for moving pre-emptively against Iraq.

"I can't speak for the vice president, but he was talking about the doctrine of pre-emption," he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "Whereas, what we talk about in this case is an issue of pre-empting an attack against Iraq."

"We still think that war at this time is not advisable," he added. "There is no country in the world that supports it. There is no legal basis for it. There is no international sanction for it. There is no coalition for it."

But in a meeting with 3,000 Marines and their families at Camp Pendleton, Calif., yesterday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld predicted that more countries would come around to a pro-American stance if the United States decided to attack Iraq.

"Leadership in the right direction finds followers and supporters," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

"I would submit that in the event that another decision has to be made, and the president makes it, regardless of what it's about or where it is, that he will find his way to the right decision, and other countries will find their way to the right decision," he said. "We'll find that in a relatively short period of time, there will be support across broad areas for doing the right thing."

Mr. al-Jubeir also disputed Mr. Cheney's assertion that after Saddam's ouster, "our ability to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would be enhanced just as it was following the liberation of Kuwait in 1991."

"Our view is that it's the other way around," the Saudi spokesman said. "You need to settle the Israeli-Palestinian problem, you need to tone down the anger that's directed at the U.S. in the region, and then you need to pursue a legal process to bring Saddam into compliance."

"And if that doesn't work, then you pursue other options," he added. "But you don't put the cart before the horse."

Saudi warnings about roiling the "Arab street" were dismissed by the vice president during his speech Monday at the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Noting that similar warnings were issued before the war in Afghanistan, Mr. Cheney predicted: "After liberation, the streets in Basra and Baghdad are sure to erupt in joy in the same way throngs in Kabul greeted the Americans."

In addition to discussing Saddam and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his meeting, Mr. Bush also raised the issue of custody disputes involving children born to one Saudi and one American parent.

Specifically, he brought up the case of Monica Stowers and her children, who are not allowed to leave the kingdom, and advised the royals to let the family reunite in America, Mr. Fleischer said.

Saudi Arabia was not the only Middle East nation to react negatively yesterday to Mr. Cheney's speech. Saddam himself, during a meeting in Baghdad with the foreign minister of Qatar, reiterated his position that an attack on Iraq would be tantamount to an attack on "all the Arab nation."

The Qatari foreign minister also expressed his opposition to U.S. military action against Iraq, although he also said that Saddam should allow the resumption of U.N. weapons inspections.

"We are, of course, against any military action," Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani told reporters on Monday.

Prince Bandar was accompanied by six of his eight children, some of whom joined the Bush family for lunch at the president's 1,600-acre ranch. Several of the children, including one who attends Baylor University in nearby Waco, later visited the school, where classes resumed this week.

Rowan Scarborough contributed to this report from Washington.

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