Albright Hits Wall in Saudi on IraqBARRY SCHWEID , Associated Press
Feb. 2, 1998 2:48 PM ET
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ Secretary of State Madeleine Albright today said Saudi Arabia sees ``eye to eye'' with the U.S. position on inspecting Iraq's weapon sites but announced no agreement on use of Saudi air bases for American warplanes.
Reiterating Clinton administration demands that Iraq rid itself of chemical and biological weapons, Albright said Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region are in danger of attacks from Iraq.
After talks with Saudi officials in a desert retreat, she sidestepped whether the Saudis had approved use of air bases here for American warplanes to attack Iraq if that option is taken.
``If we had gotten a yes, she would have said so,'' said a senior U.S. official after Albright sidestepped the bases issue at a news conference.
Saudi leaders will weigh the issue after her departure, Albright said.
Saudi officials said in a statement they agree with ``the necessity of total and unconditional compliance by the Iraqi government'' in permitting unfettered inspections. If diplomacy fails it ``would lead to grave consequences whose responsibility would lie exclusively on the Iraq government,'' the statement said.
Earlier, Albright insisted the Arab world does not oppose the hard-line U.S. stand against Iraq.
``That's not true,'' she said, arriving from Kuwait for talks with Crown Prince Abdallah and Prince Saud, the foreign minister. ``That's really not so.''
After a a two-hour, five-course luncheon in a royal tent 60 miles from the Saudi capital, Albright and the Saudi leaders conferred in a trailer about prospects for breaking Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's resistance to U.N. weapons inspections.
In Moscow, a Russian news agency reported today that Saddam is ready to receive the chief U.N. weapons inspector and name up to eight presidential sites for inspection. A spokesman for President Boris Yeltsin said Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov called Yeltsin to tell him of Saddam's offer, ITAR-Tass reported.
But hours later, Iraq denied there was any agreement.
President Clinton, meanwhile, called Yeltsin to discuss ``the serious situation concerning Iraq's noncompliance with United Nations Security Council mandates,'' a White House official said. ``President Clinton stressed the need for unity among Security Council members.''
Clinton agreed with Yeltsin on the desirability of a diplomatic solution ``but said Saddam's continued defiance and refusal to allow adequate (U.N.) inspections were unacceptable,'' the official said.
At the United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommended that the Security Council more than double the amount of oil Iraq is allowed to sell. Saying he hoped to prevent a humanitarian disaster, Annan proposed Iraq be permitted to sell $5.2 billion of oil every six months, up from $2.14 billion.
But Iraq's U.N. ambassador, Nizar Hamdoon, said without elaborating that Iraq may raise its own objections to parts of the program.
If the Clinton administration decides force is the only way, Saudi Arabia, with its air bases and influence in the Arab world, could be critical to both military and psychological success.
``It's great to be here,'' Albright said to her wealthy hosts. ``I had no idea it's so green.'' The green meadow, backed by red sand dunes, is one of Abdallah's retreats.
Eleven huge boxes of Saudi-grown truffles, valued in the thousands of dollars, lined a large reception area as Albright and her hosts dined at a huge, horseshoe-shaped table.
In claiming Arab support, Albright cited a letter King Hussein of Jordan wrote his brother, Crown Prince Hassan, on Saturday castigating Saddam. The king had tilted in favor of Saddam during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
``The world cannot accept anyone defying international will and U.N. resolutions,'' the king wrote of Iraq's refusal to permit arms inspectors from the United Nations. ``It will, God forbid, push toward an explosion.''
Kuwait, annexed by Iraq in 1990 and then liberated by the U.S.-led coalition that included Arab armies, praised international efforts to persuade Iraq to permit open inspections.
The Kuwaiti government, the statement said, realizes ``holds the Iraqi regime responsible for all the negative consequences that may result from continuing its intransigence.''
Saudi Arabia also felt Iraq's sting during the war, when Saddam launched scud missiles against the kingdom and Israel.
While no U.S. B-52 or B-1 bombers are based in Saudi Arabia, there are F-16 fighter-bombers that could mete out severe punishment to Iraq. The warplanes are used along with U.S. reconaissance planes based here in patrolling a no-fly zone in southern Iraq.