Yahoo! News - World Headlines
Sunday September 23 9:01 AM ET
Saudi Arabia Rejects U.S. Request
By TAREK AL-ISSAWI, Associated Press Writer
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - Saudi Arabia, apparently concerned about possible strikes on a fellow Arab state, has rejected a U.S. request to use its air bases for an offensive against terrorism, a Saudi official said Sunday.
In Washington, the State Department praised Saudi military cooperation and said it looked forward to continued assistance from the kingdom. A diplomat in Riyadh said the two sides were still negotiating.
America is preparing to retaliate for the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States.
Washington blames a pan-Arab network of Islamic militants led by exiled Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden for the attacks on New York and Washington that left more than 6,000 people missing or dead. Officials indicate a strike on Afghanistan, where bin Laden has found a haven, could come at any time.
Saudi officials, though, say the United States cannot use the Prince Sultan Air Base, south of the Saudi capital Riyadh, for U.S. retaliatory attacks. Last week the commander of the U.S. Central Command's air operations, Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Wald, shifted his operations from South Carolina to the base.
``Saudi Arabia will not accept any infringement on its national sovereignty, but it fully backs action aimed at eradicating terrorism and its causes,'' said the official, who refused to be identified further.
A diplomat in Riyadh, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Saudis were negotiating with the United States over the anti-terrorism campaign. The concern appeared to be the possibility other Arab states would be targeted.
In the past, Washington has accused Yemen, Sudan and Iraq of harboring terrorists. People in those countries now fear a U.S. attack.
The Saudis were pushing for a multilateral campaign that would allow them some influence over the targets of American retaliation, the diplomat said.
In Washington, a State Department official said Sunday that ``Saudi military cooperation with our international effort has been excellent.''
The official noted that President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have said ``there will be many facets to our international effort to bring to justice those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, including efforts in law enforcement, diplomacy and international finance. As we move forward, we will be looking to the Saudis and others for assistance in these efforts.''
The United States and Saudi Arabia have been close allies for more than half a century. U.S. troops have remained in the kingdom since leading the multinational coalition that ended Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1991
Saudi Arabia hosts about 4,500 U.S. military personnel and an undisclosed number of warplanes at Prince Sultan Air Base. U.S. warplanes patrolling a no-fly zone over southern Iraq take off from Saudi Arabia.