Saudi says no war from its soil
Sunday September 30, 05:30 PM
JEDDAH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's Defence Minister Prince Sultan has said in published remarks that the kingdom, a key U.S. ally, will not allow foreign forces to launch attacks from its territory against Arabs or Muslims.
The Arabic-language Okaz newspaper said on Sunday Prince Sultan dismissed as "nonsense" reports that the oil-rich kingdom would allow U.S. forces to launch military action from a U.S. base on its territory against Afghanistan.
"We do not accept the presence in our country of a single soldier at war with Muslims or Arabs," it quoted the minister as saying during a visit to the northern Qassim region.
Prince Sultan's reported remarks were the first made by a senior Saudi official following conflicting recent reports on whether the kingdom would allow the United States to use its territory to launch attacks in reprisal for the September 11 suicide attacks in New York and Washington.
The United States has warned Afghanistan's ruling Taliban of reprisals for not handing over Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden, Washington's top suspect in the attacks.
Prince Sultan said the situation was now different from 1990-1991 when Saudi Arabia was a launching pad for the U.S.-led military coalition that ended Iraq's occupation of Kuwait.
Okaz quoted Prince Sultan as saying that 40 French, British and U.S. aircraft were in the kingdom to monitor southern Iraq under a U.N. Security Council decision following the Gulf War.
The Washington Post has said Riyadh signalled it would allow U.S. aircraft stationed at Prince Sultan Air Base to launch attacks on Afghanistan. The Post had previously said the Saudis were resisting a U.S. request to use a new command centre there.
The Saudi ambassador to Britain Ghazi al-Gosaibi told Reuters on Wednesday that Washington was aware the kingdom, the birthplace of Islam, could not be directly involved in strikes on fellow Muslims in Afghanistan.
But on Friday a source familiar with Saudi foreign policy told Reuters that the kingdom will allow the U.S. to launch military action from the Prince Sultan base.
Saudi Arabia has pledged support for an international coalition U.S. President George W. Bush is building against "terrorism". It has also severed ties with the Taliban for refusing to hand over bin Laden.
The Saudi English-language Arab News daily said in an editorial on Sunday that the Washington Post and foreign news agencies "are either unaware of the kingdom's policies or attitudes or they are aiming to embarrass the kingdom by malicious propaganda that suggests the kingdom is part of military action".
"The kingdom's participation in combating terrorism is and will be consistent and compatible with its beliefs, policies and best judgements. Only Saudi air space will be used as our contribution. but the kingdom's soil will not be used as a base for any military operations," the newspaper said