- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 17, 2002

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia Vice President Richard B. Cheney encountered more resistance yesterday to U.S. action against Iraq, even as he conveyed growing American interest in a Saudi-sponsored Middle East peace initiative.
Mr. Cheney met with Saudi leaders, who have expressed sharp reservations about any U.S. plan to move militarily against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Saudi Arabia was the sixth nation on Mr. Cheney's 11-nation Middle East tour. Each country he has visited in the region so far has opposed a tougher stand on Iraq.
The Saudi rejection was expected and telegraphed well in advance, but it was significant because of the importance the United States places on Saudi Arabia's role in the region.
It would be difficult for the United States to mount a successful military campaign against Iraq without the support, or at least acquiescence, of Saudi Arabia, many analysts suggest.
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah met Mr. Cheney at the airport, walking out on a long red carpet to greet him. The two stood at attention as a Saudi band played the national anthems of both countries.
Mr. Cheney then had an audience with the ailing King Fahd and then met again with Prince Abdullah, including a dinner session. Prince Abdullah has been the de facto leader of the country since King Fahd, his half brother, had a stroke in 1995.
Prince Abdullah's peace initiative offering Israel full diplomatic recognition in exchange for a withdrawal from lands it seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war has been gaining support fast in the Arab world.
Mr. Cheney's message to Prince Abdullah was that the United States supported his efforts, though at this point the plan does not have a lot of details, U.S. officials said.
In one Arab nation after another, Mr. Cheney has found leaders primarily focused on resolving the corrosive Israeli-Palestinian crisis, no matter how much he tries to change the subject to a tougher stand on Baghdad.
Every Middle Eastern country he has visited so far has rejected proposals to confront Iraq Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, Oman and now the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Just before Mr. Cheney's visit, Prince Abdullah warned that the United States cannot overthrow the Iraqi leader and that any strike against Iraq would just increase anti-U.S. feeling in the region.
Prince Abdullah, in interviews with both CNN and ABC, said it was important for Iraq to remain unified.
In a separate interview with ABC's Barbara Walters, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said that, should the United States decide to attack Iraq, it could not use Saudi bases for its strikes.
Saudi Arabia's offer of bases to U.S. soldiers and warplanes was a major factor in the 1991 Persian Gulf war. More recently, Saudi Arabia publicly denied the United States use of its bases to launch direct attacks against Afghanistan, and Prince Abdullah criticized the U.S. bombing there.


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