- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 4, 2002

TEHRAN — Key U.S. ally Saudi Arabia and longtime foe Iran expressed joint opposition yesterday to U.S. military action against their neighbor Iraq.
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal held separate meetings with both centrist Iranian President Mohammed Khatami and Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi during a one-day visit to the Iranian capital.
During their meeting, Mr. Khatami expressed his country's concern with what he called the "threats against Iraq," an official statement carried by state radio said.
"If aggression against one country becomes a habit, no government or country will be spared," he said, giving the opposition reaction of some other countries in the region to a potential U.S. strike to topple the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
But Mr. Khatami placed part of the responsibility for the regional tension on Iraq, which fought a bloody war with Iran in the 1980s and has been under punishing sanctions since it invaded Kuwait in 1990 and sparked thePersian Gulf war.
The Iranian president called for "regional cooperation between Iraq's neighboring countries to encourage it to adhere to U.N. resolutions and international agreements.""The countries in the region, and notably Iran and Saudi Arabia, must mobilize themselves to defend the prestige and dignity of Islam," Mr. Khatami said.
He also criticized the United States for its "total support" of Israel in the current 22-month-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It is feared that widespread opposition to Washington's Middle East policies in the Arab world could hamper its attempts to gain support for military action against Baghdad. Jordan, another close U.S. ally in the region, has also expressed reservations over any plan to strike Iraq.
Prince Saud told Mr. Khatami that the U.S.-Iraqi standoff is "dangerous," and that Iraq's neighbors were also under "threat," the radio report said.
"We have always opposed any attack against an Arab or Muslim country, and that also means Iraq," he had told reporters earlier when he was greeted at the airport by Mr. Kharrazi.
The Saudi foreign minister said he was bringing a message for Tehran from de facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Abdullah as part of the "continuing political consultations" between the two regional powers.
The consultations between the two Gulf powers, which were to be followed today by a visit here by the top diplomat of another Gulf state — Oman — came as U.S. officials warned that Washington was determined to oust the Baghdad regime whatever it did.
Yesterday, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell emphatically rejected an Iraqi offer to discuss a return of U.N. weapons inspectors who left Iraq in December 1998.
"We have seen the Iraqis try to fiddle with the inspection system before. You can tell that they are trying to get out of the clear requirement that they have," Mr. Powell told reporters in Manila, the last leg of an eight-country Asian tour.
In Moscow yesterday, a senior Russian Foreign Ministry official suggested that Saddam's tentative offer to allow the return of U.N. weapons inspectors came after pressure from Russia.
Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov said he discussed the issue at length with the Iraqi leadership and several other regional powers during his recent tour of the Middle East.
"During my visit, we discussed a whole range of questions, including how we can speed up the process of political dialogue," Mr. Saltanov told the RIA Novosti state news agency.
Allowing back U.N. weapons inspectors was the "main idea discussed with the Iraqi leadership," he said.
Mr. Saltanov met Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri in Baghdad on July 25, and Thursday Iraq made the surprise offer to invite the chief U.N. inspector to Baghdad for talks.
Russia, one of the few nations to take a positive view of Saddam's offer, has also been vocally opposed to U.S. military action against Iraq.
Twenty-five thousand U.S. troops are stationed at any given time in the Persian Gulf region. Five thousand to 6,000 of them, mostly air force personnel, are in Saudi Arabia's Prince Sultan air base, south of Riyadh.
The use of the Saudi air base and other military facilities is seen as essential for the success of any U.S. military campaign against Iraq. President Bush, who has called Iran and Iraq part of an "axis of evil," along with North Korea, has said a change of regime in Baghdad is a U.S. foreign policy goal.
Despite U.S. misgivings, Saudi Arabia has moved much closer to Iran's Islamic regime since the 1997 election of Mr. Khatami, a pro-reform moderate.
The longtime rivals signed a security pact last year in April during a landmark visit to Tehran by Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, the first Saudi interior minister to visit Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Mr. Khatami visited the kingdom in 1999, and the two nations have also worked together since to orchestrate oil production cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries that stabilized world prices.

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