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News, 26/1-2/2/02 (2)

News, 26/1-2/2/02 (2)


*  Iraqi forces intercepted British, American warplanes formations
*  Iraq: The Phantom Threat [Scott Ritter pores scorn on the string of
defectors who provide the Œinformation¹ Wolfowitz, Woolsey and Perle are so
anxious to hear]
*  Iraq Co-Operated with Nuclear Inspection -- IAEA


*  America Goes Into the Energy Business With the Former Evil Empire [This
should really have been in last week¹s news. It is an intriguing argument
that the US is in the process of transferring its affections away from Saudi
Arabia, as a petrol producer, towards Russia, and that this will bring about
a new friendly relationship with Iraq, ŒSaddam or no Saddam¹.]
*  Washington-Riyadh chill intensifies [Includes, as an interesting passing
remark, that Saudi Arabia Œwas a close ally during the Cold War, providing
hundreds of millions of dollars to US-supported insurgents from Angola to
Afghanistan, to Nicaragua.¹ It seems that the Saudis have been into the
business of bankrolling Œterrorism;¹ for a very long time, and that the US
owes a lot to them. What interest did the Saudis have in Nicaragua?]
*  Why We Need Ties With Saudis [Argument for staying in Saudi Arabia
despite the Saudi lack of enthusiasm]
*  Farewell, Saudi Arabia [Argument for pulling out. Saudi foot-dragging has
become intolerable. The Saudi authorities Œeven resisted for a time so
sensible and modest a request as to give to American immigration and law
enforcement authorities basic biographical data about Saudis who board the
national airlines' flights to the U.S.¹ Does this mean Ireland should have
provided basic data on its citizens boarding Aer Lingus flights to Britain
during the worst of the troubles???]
*  Saudis are saying that 100 of their nationals are among those who are
detained by the US
*  Saudi ministry of the interior continues receiving inquiries about Saudis
arrested in USA
*  Crown Prince Abdullah address Saudi attitude towards US policy [Quite a
pleasingly tough statement in contrast to his Jordanian namesake below]


*  Iraqi refugees to return home voluntarily [from Iran]
*  Syria Accused of Violating Sanctions [The article also mentions the
amount of oil that is being smuggled into Turkey without explaining why it
is Syria, not Turkey, that is under attack. Once again this has a
Britain-does-the-jobs-the-US-doesn¹t-want-to-touch feel about it]
*  Roundup: Iran, Iraq Edge Closer Before U.S. Shifts Anti-Terrorism
*  Iraq to Permit Direct Flights for Iranian Pilgrims
*  Tehran's Game [Righteous indignation from Time Magazine that Iran might
be interfering in Afghanistan by giving aid to its allies in the country. Of
course America would never think of doing such a thing. But with two and a
half million Afghan refugees in Iran the Iranians could be said to have a
legitimate interest in the matter]
*  Iraq, Iran agreement to halt Mujahidee Khalq activities
*  Iraq to Honor Female Bomber
*  Jordan's King Backs Bush on Iran, Iraq [Most depressing item of the week.
Abdullah of Jordan, beside Bush, says: "It is very obvious that there are
those on the side of good and those on the side of bad ... There's some
countries in the middle that haven't made up their mind.... And those
countries better make up their minds pretty quickly."  No indication that he
might have a different idea of what constitutes Œgood¹ and Œbad¹ than Mr
Bush. The article repeats the old lie that, during the Gulf Massacre,
ŒJordan sided with Iraq¹. Jordan, like the Yemen, condemned the invasion of
Kuwait but attempted to do what the UN Charter obliges everyone to do ­ find
a settlement through negotiation. Its efforts were systematically sabotaged
by the US and it was severely punished economically afterwards by the other
Gulf powers. Thenceforth Abdullah¹s father behaved himself, co-operated with
the embargo, kept his mouth shut and all sorts of lofty people turned up to
pay him homage at his funeral.]

*  Iranian president meets Iraqi foreign minister
Irna, 28th January. Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri's visit to Iran. Just
an exchange of compliments but that has its own significance at the present
time, expecially since the Iranian side is represented by the (relatively)
virtuous (in US eyes) Mohammad Khatami.
*  Iraq's diplomacy may ward off US attack
by Alistair Lyon
Dawn (Pakistan), 30th January, 15 Ziqa'ad 1422
Summary of Tariq Aziz¹s recent travels and initiatives addressed to Saudi
Arabia, Kuwait and Iran.
*  Allies More Important for Iraq
Las Vegas Sun, 31st January
Summary of Iraq¹s relations with immediate neighbours.


Arabic News, 26th January

Iraqi missile and artillery forces on Friday intercepted American and
British warplanes which were flying to the north of Iraq and forced them to
flee away.

An Iraqi spokesman said on Friday that the Iraqi missiles and artillery
defense means intercepted several British and American warplanes formations
escorted by an AWACS plane which carried out 14 armed sorties over areas in
the provinces of Dahouk, Irbil, and Ninoa to the north of Iraq and forces
them to flee away.

The spokesman stressed that number of American and British sorties over
north Iraq and its south tolled 36584 armed sorties since the American-
British attacks against Iraq in December 1998.
(though this requires payment to access it. I got a version at, 26th January, but it was quite
heavily cut. The version below was posted to the discussion list)

by Scott Ritter
Christian Science Monitor, 23rd January

At this very moment, US intelligence personnel are poring over documents,
uncovering the depth of the anti-American plotting of Osama bin Laden and
his Al Qaeda network. Al Qaeda prisoners are being interrogated in an effort
to unlock past secrets and interdict future threats to the United States and
the world. As this investigation proceeds, the web of terrorist networks
forged by Mr. bin Laden in his struggle against the West is becoming clear.
Some of the exposed links are not surprising - including Iran, Somalia,
Sudan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Notably absent is Iraq. Given the
spate of post-Sept. 11 media reports linking Iraq with bin Laden, one would
expect a flood of evidence coming from Afghanistan confirming such a

Even the alleged meetings between Mohammed Atta - a suspected leader of the
Sept. 11 hijackers - and an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague are
inconclusive. The Czech government has sent conflicting reports concerning
this meeting and, even if the meeting took place, the supposed topic of
discussion - an attack on a Radio Free Europe radio transmitter used to
broadcast anti-Hussein programming - is a far cry from the 9/11 attacks.

The lack of documentation of an Iraq-Al Qaeda connection in this
intelligence trove should lead to the questioning of the original source of
such speculation, as well as the motivations of those who continue to peddle
the "Iraqi connection" theory. Foremost among them are opposition leader
Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress and his American sponsors, in
particular Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, former CIA Director
James Woolsey, and former Undersecretary of State Richard Perle.

During my service as a UN weapons inspector, I had responsibility for
liaison with Mr. Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress to gather
"intelligence information" derived from Chalabi's erstwhile network of
defectors and in-country sources. This information turned out to be more
flash than substance. For example, there was the "engineer" who allegedly
worked on Saddam Hussein's palaces who spoke of a network of underground
tunnels where crates of documents were allegedly hidden during inspections.
Inspectors did find a drainage tunnel. However, despite the fact that no
documents were discovered, Chalabi took the tunnel's existence as
confirmation that documents also existed, and spoke as if they were an
established fact.

In the same manner, when Mr. Wolfowitz and company needed a link between
Iraq and the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks, Chalabi dutifully trotted
out a series of heretofore "undiscovered" defectors who have "information"
about the training of "Arab" hijackers by Iraqi intelligence at a facility
near the Iraqi town of Salman Pak. The site is reported to be fully equipped
with, among other things, a commercial airliner upon which the trainees can
practice their trade, conveniently enough, in "groups of five" and "armed
only with knives and their bare hands." The facility at Salman Pak does
exist; its use as an Al Qaeda training camp is unsubstantiated.

More recently, following President Bush's demand that Iraq permit the return
of UN weapons inspectors or else "suffer the consequences," Chalabi
conveniently produced another "defector" who allegedly had access to
Saddam's secret plans to hide underground biological and chemical weapons
facilities from international detection. I spent more than six years
investigating the organizations the defector claimed to work for, and
although elements of his story ring true, the details used to embellish his
tale on weapons of mass destruction are impossible to pin down or, in some
cases, just plain wrong.

The UN stopped using Chalabi's information as a basis for conducting
inspections once the tenuous nature of his sources and his dubious
motivations became clear. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the
mainstream US media, which give prominent coverage to sources of information
that, had they not been related to Hussein's Iraq, would normally be
immediately dismissed.

This media coverage serves policy figures gunning for a wider war. It
generates a frenzy of speculation concerning Iraq in the public arena, which
accepts at face value this information despite the fact that almost none of
what Chalabi has purveyed to the media about Iraq has turned out to be
accurate. There is a substantial lack of clarity and credible sources on the
actual nature of the Iraqi threat to the US. A wider debate on US policy
toward Iraq is imperative, especially in light of the increasing war talk
out of Washington. Rather than relying on information from dubious sources,
let's put all the facts on the table. The conclusions drawn from such a
debate could pull us back from the brink of an unnecessary and costly war. 

Reuters, 31st January

AMMAN: The head of a team from the U.N. nuclear watchdog IAEA said on
Thursday Baghdad had co-operated fully with its routine annual inspection in

The IAEA mission was completed on Wednesday, one day after President Bush
accused Baghdad of developing weapons of mass destruction.

The International Atomic Energy Agency team arrived in Jordan from Baghdad
where it had carried out the five-day mission in which it inspected several
undisclosed sites.

Anrzey Pietruzewski, head of the team, told reporters in Amman the mission
went smoothly.

"During our inspection, representatives from the Iraqi Atomic Energy
commission were present for the whole time and all help that is necessary to
perform the inspections was provided by Iraqi authorities," he said.

Pietruzewski said a statement about the results of the inspection would be
made to the Iraqi authorities.

The inspection by the Vienna-based IAEA, a U.N. agency that monitors the
peaceful use of nuclear power worldwide, was intended to guard against any
diversion of nuclear material to a military program.

It was not connected to more intrusive U.N. inspections in Iraq conducted
prior to 1998 under a Security Council resolution ordering Baghdad to
eliminate all its weapons of mass destruction following its 1990 invasion of

Those U.N. weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998 just before a U.S.-British
bombing blitz and Iraq has refused to allow them back since.

Bush vowed on Tuesday to prevent "terrorists and regimes who seek chemical,
biological or nuclear weapons from threatening the United States and the
world." He singled out Iraq, Iran and North Korea by name.

Iraq dismissed Bush's comments as "stupid and improper," saying the U.S.
leader was laying the groundwork for another U.S. assault on Iraq, whose
troops were driven from Kuwait in 1991 by a U.S.-led coalition.


by Roger Trilling
The Village Voice (January 16 - 22)

For decades, we've heard warnings that the West's overdependence on Saudi
oil could have disastrous effects were anything to go wrong in the Middle
East. But it's been a hard habit to break ­ the American public's support
for the 1991 Gulf War is proof enough of that.

That was a war between Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil reserve, and
Iraq, arguably the world's second largest oil reserve. Now we are fighting a
war against what sometimes seems like a virtual Saudi Arabia, and we may use
Iraq to achieve victory. But this will not be a victory over Osama bin
Laden, or over terrorism. It will be a victory over our dependence on Saudi
oil, and Russia is going to help us win it. Maybe.

It is often said that hunting down and killing Osama will solve nothing.
That after this Osama, there will be many Osamas. This is true, but not just
because of abstractions like "poverty" or "ignorance." Osama is neither poor
nor ignorant. The reason there may be more Osamas is that there is a network
that grows them, and that network is, for the moment, indistinguishable from
the Saudi elite.

Committed to the conservative Wahhabite strain of the Muslim faith, much of
the Saudi power structure has been deeply compromised by its support for the
networks of militant Islam ­ how deeply is the great mystery of this war.
But when President Bush made "You're either with us or against us" the war's
mantra, he must surely have been talking to people who never had to make the
choice before.

How deeply compromised are the Saudis? We don't know, because our government
is keeping very quiet about this. But according to the book Ben Laden: La
Verité Interdite, which grew out of French intelligence reports (and was the
subject of James Ridgeway's November 27 column), the answer is pretty much .
. . totally.

In a chapter called "Terrorism's Banker," for example, we learn that Osama's
brother-in-law was once the biggest private banker in the world. Until
relieved of his duties in 1999, he was also personal banker to the Saudi
royal family. His name is Khalid bin Mahfouz, and he was last seen in a
Saudi military hospital, being interrogated by U.S. officials about $2
billion gone missing, very probably to terrorist causes.

These are not the type of people lending institutions are comfortable doing
business with. And many leading banks have responded predictably: They have
taken Bush at his word, and declined to invest in the region. In an
end-of-year prognosis published in London's Financial Times, Arthur Andersen
partner Carl Hughes said: "The focus of the great geopolitical game will no
longer be east versus west, but north versus south. The 'war on terrorism'
will hasten this trend, slowing the reopening of the Middle Eastern
companies to western oil capital."

The power of the Saudi state, of course, rests on 262 billion barrels of
oil, the largest concentration of wealth on the planet. To do battle with
that, one must do battle with OPEC, the 13-nation cartel dominated by Saudi
Arabia. And nobody can do that better than what the oil industry calls
"non-OPEC," led by Russia, the world's second- largest oil exporter. The
latest skirmish was occasioned by OPEC's November 14 announcement that, in
response to the continuing global recession and the resultant fall in the
price of oil, OPEC was scheduling a cut in production for the third time
last year. But whereas non-OPEC ­ and especially Russia ­ had taken
advantage of the previous cuts to increase their global market share, this
time they were told to contribute a quarter of the planned drop of 2 million
barrels a day, scheduled for the first two quarters of 2002.

Mexico and Norway made cooperative noises. Moscow most definitely did not.
Having been asked to pony up a cut of 150,000 barrels a day, Russia offered
30,000 ­ just enough to be insulting. Andrei Illarionov, one of Putin's top
economic advisors, came flat out against cutting production, calling OPEC
"an unreliable partner" and "a historically doomed organization."
Eventually, a compromise was reached: Russia promised to cut production the
full 150,000, but for the first quarter only ­ when the Siberian winter
forces down output naturally.

The last thing the U.S. economy needs now is higher oil prices. But the
delicacy of current relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia led to
administration murmurs of support for "price stability," instead of the
all-out price war the Russians said they were prepared to wage. But soon
after there was a slightly different message from America's inconspicuous
but powerful secretary of energy, Spencer Abraham. "Obviously we want
stability. At the same time, we don't want a recession that's artificially
extended because of decisions that are made with only a short-term focus."

In fact, Abraham, previously best known for his opinion that many Department
of Energy functions would be best served by privatization, could not be more
supportive of U.S. Russian oil initiatives. In October, for example, Exxon
exercised a previously unused option to develop Siberian oil. It's a $12
billion investment, and will reap $35 billion in revenues over the next
three decades ­ and that's just the Russian share.

In this sense, Abraham's pro-Russian position is no different from that of
the rest of the administration. Despite the abrogation of the ABM Treaty ­ a
political embarrassment that Putin waved away as being "of no major concern
to us" ­ the administration has supported Tony Blair's initiatives for the
fast-track entry of Russia into both the World Trade Organization and even,
despite Donald Rumsfeld's objections, NATO itself.

And why not? It's Statecraft 101: After World War II, we used defeated Nazis
to help us fight our former Soviet ally. And after the Cold War, we are
using the Russians in more or less the same way against our close friends
the Saudis: by rebuilding their economy, starting with the oil business. As
Secretary Abraham put it: "Greater energy security through a more diverse
supply of oil for global markets ­ these are key elements of President
Bush's National Energy Policy."

The quote comes from a visit Abraham paid to Moscow at the end of November.
The ostensible and very p.c. purpose of the visit was "strengthening
standards for the protection and accounting of nuclear materials," but the
main event turned out to be the pronouncement, from all parties concerned,
that the days of U.S.-Russian rivalry over Caspian Sea oil have finally

The occasion for the lovefest was provided by the Caspian Pipeline
Consortium (CPC), whose members include Chevron-Texaco, Arco, Mobil, Shell,
and the governments of Russia and Kazakhstan. The event they were
celebrating was the inauguration of a pipeline running from Kazakhstan's
Tenghiz oil field (the world's sixth largest) to the Russian Black Sea port
of Novorossisk.

Dave O'Reilly, Chevron's CEO, used the moment to proclaim to "the global
business community that one can confidently invest in Russia and
Kazakhstan." And Secretary Abraham, with the OPEC-Russia fracas no doubt in
mind, said that "Russia is emerging as a separate nucleus of the energy
equation. We have great respect for the energy role that Russia is playing,
and we believe it will be an expanded role in the future." The Russian press
even reported that Abraham had endorsed the idea of a "third nucleus," a
channel for ongoing consultations among non-OPEC nations (which in theory
could include the U.S.).

The CPC represents a complete reversal of the traditional status quo on
Caspian Sea oil, whose paradigm until recently was the Baku- Ceyhan
pipeline, a U.S.-backed effort to transport oil (how much is uncertain,
although the estimate has been diminishing) an enormous distance (1100
miles) at a cost (up to $4 billion) almost double its original projection.
The Baku-Ceyhan pipeline would go from Azerbaijan (recently at war with
Armenia) through Georgia (occasionally bombed by Russia) and Armenia to
Turkey (across the Kurdish war zone) ­ all in the name of greater
"security." This meant the pipeline didn't pass through Russia or Iran. And
though it's been promoted for years by its main backer, British Petroleum
(BP), it has never been built.

The Russians, of course, always resented the rude and exclusionary attitude
to Caspian Sea oil represented by Baku-Ceyhan, and boycotted it accordingly.
So imagine the pleasure felt this December in BP offices when
representatives were invited to make a presentation ­ to the Kremlin. If, as
expected, Moscow extends its blessing, then giant Russian oil companies like
Lukoil and Yukos will be free to invest in the pipeline, locking it into
their own extensive networks and using it to transport their own oil to the
Mediterranean ­ a win-win situation for everybody.

More and more in recent years, those networks have extended to Iraq, which
has long shipped its oil from Ceyhan. Friendly relations between the two
countries go back decades, and Russia is by far Iraq's largest trading
partner. It also holds $8 billion in Iraqi debt, giving it a long-term stake
in Iraqi stability. Lukoil, for example, holds rights to Iraq's West Qurna
oil field. One of the world's largest, West Qurna could eventually pump up
to a million barrels a day. So for historical and commercial reasons, Russia
has opposed the levying of further UN sanctions against Iraq, and would like
to see those in place lifted.

The sanctions have, of course, been a political and humanitarian disaster
(which Osama bin Laden has not hesitated to exploit). Depending on whose
abacus one uses, the number of innocent children said to have died runs into
the hundreds of thousands (according to the UN) or even the millions
(according to the Iraqis).

The American and British response has been to lobby intensively for a change
in the nature of sanctions. This past summer, they proposed to the UN
Security Council the idea of "smart sanctions," which would allow the Iraqi
citizenry access to a far greater range of goods, while clamping down more
firmly on "dual use" items with potential military applications. France,
traditionally a staunch ally of Iraq, went along with the U.S.-U.K.
proposal. Russia did not, and the long shadow of a Russian veto kept the
Security Council from voting smart sanctions into effect.

Iraq, which claims to have no more weapons of mass destruction, is of course
opposed to any sanctions, as well as to the return of UN weapons inspectors.
So in August of 2001, in clear appreciation of Russia's backing at the UN,
Iraq reassigned rights to its oil fields at Nahr Umar and Majnoon,
previously held by the French, to Russia. Their potential is well over
double that of the West Qurna fields, which means that in a post-sanctions
world, Russia has access, from these fields alone, to more than 3 million
barrels a day of Iraqi oil. And there are others.

Russia is, by Western standards, an underdeveloped country, with a GNP about
the same size as Holland's. And it is very unlikely that the West will ever
stop buying Persian Gulf oil ­ there are no known sources as cheap or as
plentiful. But factoring in ever rising output from both Russian and Caspian
fields, the amount of oil Russia can bring to market exceeds Saudi numbers
(although the quality of Russian oil is inferior to Saudi, and it costs
three or four times as much to extract). Add in Iraqi potential, and it's
roughly double Saudi Arabia's current production level of 8 million barrels
a day.

The Petroleum Finance Company, an influential consulting and analysis firm,
has devoted much study to this, and some of it recently found an echo in The
Washington Post. In a December 23 column called "Russia Wins the War," David
Ignatius cited a PFC report and found it "obvious that Moscow is on its way
to becoming the next Houston ­ the global capital of energy."

On November 26 ­ the same day Secretary Abraham took off for Moscow ­
President Bush issued his famous "he'll find out" threat to Saddam Hussein.
Although the topic at the time was the admission of weapons inspectors, it
was not widely noted that four days later, the UN Security Council was again
to put the issue of "smart sanctions" to a vote.

It never happened. The decision was tabled for six months, because a deal
had been worked out, it was reported, between the U.S. and Russia. Both
countries would come to agreement on a list of prohibited dual-use items, to
be presented to the Security Council on June 1, 2002, at which time the
whole issue of sanctions against Iraq would be reviewed. In the meantime,
Putin has been calling on Iraq to readmit UN weapons inspectors, in the hope
that sanctions be lifted.

But whatever happens ­ air strikes, a new spirit of cooperation from Iraq,
nothing at all ­ one thing is certain. For the foreseeable future, a
resurgent Russia, America's new best friend, will be Iraq's main partner in
the oil business ­ Saddam or no Saddam.

by Jim Lobe
Dawn (Pakistan), 26th January

WASHINGTON (InterPress Service): Judging by the media coverage, much of the
US and international political establishment was taken aback to learn that
Saudi Arabia is considering asking Washington to withdraw its military
presence from the kingdom. But to experts on the US-Saudi alliance, which
dates back to World War II, the story came as little surprise.

They have warned for some time that under Crown Prince Abdullah, the de
facto ruler in Saudi Arabia since King Fahd suffered debilitating strokes
several years ago, the regime was likely to distance itself from Washington.
Abdullah is widely considered both more nationalistic and more tuned in to
domestic Saudi opinion than his two predecessors.

As Charles W. Freeman, a former US ambassador and frequent visitor to
Riyadh, said, "for the first time since 1973, we actually have a situation
in which the United States is so unpopular among the (Saudi) public that the
royal family now thinks its security is best served by publicly distancing
itself from the United States."

For months since the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001, the US media have
been full of accounts of rising anti-US sentiment, which has made the
kingdom a fertile recruiting ground and fund-raising source for al-Qaeda and
Osama bin Laden, himself a Saudi national who was stripped of his
citizenship by government decree in 1994.

So intense was the coverage - one typical New York Times headline read "
Anti-Western and Extremist Views Pervade Saudi Arabia" - that Abdullah
himself complained publicly about what he called a "ferocious campaign by
the Western media against the kingdom" in early November, a theme that has
since been echoed frequently by Prince Bandar, the influential Saudi
ambassador here, and other senior officials.

The US has always had a close military and intelligence relationship with
Riyadh, which has bought more than $50 billion in US arms and construction
contracts over the past 20 years with the hundreds of billions of dollars it
has earned as the world's biggest oil exporter. It was a close ally during
the Cold War, providing hundreds of millions of dollars to US supported
insurgents from Angola to Afghanistan, to Nicaragua.

With Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, however, those ties took a
quantum leap. After a meeting immediately following the invasion, between
top Saudi leaders and then defence secretary, now Vice President Dick
Cheney, the kingdom invited the US to use its territory as the launching pad
for rolling back Baghdad's occupation.

After the war, Riyadh agreed to maintain some 5,000 US troops on its soil.
It also permitted scores of US warplanes and pilots to be based at the
Prince Sultan Air Base, where Washington has installed a state-of-the-art
command centre that covers virtually the entire Middle East, Gulf and
Central Asia regions.

Ironically, the US military presence was perhaps the most important catalyst
in driving Osama - who saw it as a desecration of Islam and its holiest
places - to launch his "jihad" against Washington.

His message clearly resonated both with conservative clerics and Saudi
youth, many of whom are unemployed. In 1995, a car bomb killed five US
military advisers in Riyadh. It was followed the next year by the bombing of
the Khobar Towers apartments, which housed US troops. Nineteen US servicemen
were killed in the blast, which resulted in the US military presence being
moved to a more remote location and new tensions over the subsequent

Various currents on both the right and the left of US opinion have long been
critical of its close ties to the royal family for a variety of reasons,
ranging from its human rights record and authoritarianism to its history of
corruption. In anticipation of Osama, these same forces argued during the
Gulf War that a permanent US military presence in the world's largest oil
exporter would turn its population against Washington.

But recent events - including the preponderance of Saudi nationals among the
Sept 11 skyjackers, the intense media attention paid to private Saudi
support for Al Qaeda and anti-Western feeling within the kingdom, the rise
of a more friendly Russia as a major oil exporter, the new US military
foothold in energy-rich Central Asia, and even the apparent collapse of the
Oslo peace process - have clearly weakened the kingdom's standing and
influence here to the lowest point in memory.

New York Daily News, 27th January

Suddenly, no one knows nuthin'.

Someone, probably the CIA, bugs the Boeing 767 used by China's president
during its luxury retrofit in Texas, but Secretary of State Powell and
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, two statutory members of the National
Security Council who presumably would have had to approve the operation,
claim ignorance of it.

Someone, probably the Pakistanis, airlifts thousands of Taliban soldiers to
safety ‹ a tale reliably told in The New Yorker by Seymour Hersch ‹ but,
again, top aides to President Bush echo Rumsfeld, who says, "I don't believe
it happened."

Similarly, no senior administration official admits knowing anything about
the possibility that American troops may soon be asked to leave Saudi

This last is truly serious. The prospect of U.S. forces exiting Saudi Arabia
could have disastrous consequences for peace in the region.

Yet the possibility of such a train wreck now seems real. Persistent reports
say Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah, the kingdom's de facto ruler,
wants our forces gone. And in Washington, what should be a sick joke is
being pushed by powerful members of Congress, including Michigan's Carl
Levin, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"We're not particularly wanted [in Saudi Arabia]," Levin said recently.
"[The Saudis] act as though ... they're doing us a favor. I think we may be
able to find a place where we are much more welcome, openly, a place which
has not significant resources flowing to support some really extreme,
fanatic views."

"The Saudis are upset at Levin's comments and the widespread perception that
they've failed to help us fight terrorism," says an administration official.
"So they're leaking a doomsday scenario, as if to say, 'You're not going to
have the chance to quit because we'll fire you before you do.' I hope it's
just posturing, but you never know."

Several thousand American troops have been stationed in Saudi Arabia since
the Gulf War ended in 1991, and tensions between Riyadh and Washington have
been raw at least since 1996, when Saudi officials stymied the FBI's
investigation into the truck bombing of the Khobar Towers, which killed 19
Americans and wounded about 500.

More recently, the Saudis refused to give permission for the U.S. to launch
retaliatory strikes against Afghanistan after Sept. 11, a slap that took
Washington by surprise as the general commanding U.S. air operations in the
region had just moved his home base from South Carolina to Saudi Arabia.

Since then, the litany of Saudi foot-dragging has grown. Riyadh has been
only minimally helpful in tracing terrorist funds emanating from the
kingdom; they've let hundreds of Saudi Al Qaeda fighters return home while
denying U.S. requests to detain them for questioning, and they've not only
rejected the possibility of a U.S.-led assault on Iraq but have welcomed
feelers from Baghdad to restore relations cut in 1991.

"Overall," says another Bush adviser, Riyadh's participation in the campaign
against terrorism has been "beyond poor."

What's going on in a nation Washington continues to label a staunch U.S.

The Saudi government embraces a form of Islam that is among the most
restrictive and uncompromising expressions of the religion. Average Saudis
and senior government ministers share a pervasive insistence that just about
every problem in the Middle East, including Osama Bin Laden's terrorism, can
be traced to Israel's existence ‹ and America's longtime support for the
Jewish state.

For decades, hostility toward Israel has helped the ruling family hold
power. As in other Middle Eastern dictatorships, anti-Israel rhetoric is
used to deflect internal discontent ‹ and that discontent is growing. With
oil prices falling, the Saudis are in trouble fiscally and the kingdom's
generous safety net of social services is being scaled back.

So now more than ever, the Saudis need an external focus of evil, and Israel
‹ and increasingly the U.S., too ‹ fit the bill.

But instead of cementing the regime's rule, sending our troops home would
weaken it, just as the Philippines' ability to counter terrorism became
harder when Manila forced us to close our air force and navy bases there.

Bin Laden, who's been eager to topple the royals since they stripped him of
his Saudi citizenship in 1994, has said for years that expelling the U.S.
from Islam's home would be a first step toward that goal. It obviously would
be easier for Bin Laden's fanatics to seize power if our troops weren't

The Saudis may need us more than we need them, as politicians like Levin
say. But until we can secure an alternate source of oil ‹ perhaps Russia ‹
we'll be dependent on Riyadh for our energy needs. We also need the kingdom
to help keep Saddam Hussein in check, and a Saudi Arabia openly hostile to
America could destabilize the entire area.

This is a time for quiet diplomacy and for keeping our frustration muted. It
doesn't matter what's said publicly ‹ and if the Saudis continue to thwart
the war on terrorism, we'll simply have to swallow hard and make do without
their help. What we can't do is abandon the kingdom. That would be stupid
and counterproductive.

Chicago Tribune, 27th January

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) did the nation a service the other day by
broaching publicly the idea that the United States ought to consider
removing its troops from Saudi Arabia.

Such a policy review is years overdue, but it has become urgent in the last
few weeks, under the strains of the investigation of Sept. 11 and the
prosecution of the war on terrorism.

Indeed, a review of American policy may already have become academic. The
Washington Post reported just days ago that the Saudi government had grown
"increasingly uncomfortable with the U.S. military presence" and might soon
ask that it be ended.

The U.S. could spurn such a request only by becoming an occupying force,
thereby inviting the hatred and enmity of the entire Arab world and, quite
probably, of much of the rest of the world as well.

It is in U.S. interests to look unsentimentally at our relationship with
Saudi Arabia and explore whether we may be able to achieve the same defense
objectives we achieve by our presence there by redeploying troops to
another, less-volatile location in the Persian Gulf region.

America's troop presence on Saudi sand is a relic of the Gulf War. The
Saudis, stewards of two of Islam's holiest sites, reluctantly invited
American forces into the country because they feared another visitor, Iraq's
Saddam Hussein, might crash in uninvited. The gentlemen's agreement was that
the Americans would leave as soon as the war was concluded.

They didn't. They dug in and stayed. The Pentagon began pouring money into
the Prince Sultan Air Base, turning it into a state-of-the-art facility from
which American warplanes could rule the region's skies.

But this arrangement created strains on both sides. American service
members--especially women--chafed and finally rebelled at the restrictions
imposed on them so as not to offend the religious sensibilities of their
Muslim hosts. The U.S. accepted limits on what it could do with the roughly
4,700 troops and the equipment it maintained in Saudi Arabia, so as not to
make the unpopular Saudi ruling family even more unpopular with its own
people and with other nations in the region.

The breaking point was reached on Sept. 11, when 19 hijackers, recruited and
trained by Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist organization, unleashed a
whirlwind of death and destruction. It turned out that 15 of the 19
hijackers were Saudis, as was bin Laden, whose principal grievance was the
presence of American "infidels" on the soil of his nation, home of Islam's
holiest places.

Since the terror attacks, the relationship has grown increasingly testy.
Saudi Arabia has balked at helping track terrorist finances. It even
resisted for a time so sensible and modest a request as to give to American
immigration and law enforcement authorities basic biographical data about
Saudis who board the national airlines' flights to the U.S.

It is time for Washington to realize that this marriage was not made in
heaven. Our presence in Saudi Arabia already has entailed hideous costs for
us: 3,000 deaths on Sept. 11 for starters. And the fact is, it threatens to
destabilize Saudi Arabia itself, both socially and politically.

The Bush administration worries, of course, about oil, and what would happen
if the vast Saudi reserves fell into unfriendly hands. That's not a concern
to be dismissed lightly. But the fact is, no matter who rules it, they will
still need to sell it to obtain revenue and we will still need to buy it to
power our economy. The present U.S.-Saudi relationship has become
unsustainable. It's time to craft a new, more mature and stable one.

Arabic News, 29th January

Asked that the Saudis are saying that 100 of their nationals are among those
who are detained by the US in Guantanamo, US state department spokesman
Boucher said yesterday "We have not gotten into specifying the numbers or
the nationalities of the individuals at Guantanamo."

Arabic News, 28th January

The general department of relations and guidance at the Saudi ministry of
the Interior has stated it still continues receiving inquiries of families
of Saudis who were arrested in the USA, so as to answer their calls and
provide them with necessary information about their children.

This measure, however, stems from the care of the Saudi government to
facilitate issues and provide care for the citizens.

The general department for relations and guidance at the ministry of the
interior said that the office assigned for this matter was equipped at the
directives of the Saudi minister of the interior Prince Nayef Bin Abdul
Aziz, by his deputy, and the assistant for the minister of the interior for
security affairs with qualified cadres and noted the office's telephone
number in al-Riyadh is ( 4014980).

Arabic News, 29th January

Speaking about the US and the Palestinian issue, Sauid Arabia's Crown Prince
Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud said "I have great concern about America's
credibility and I care about how America is perceived...As your friends and
as your allies, we are very proud of our relationship with you. In the
current environment, we find it very difficult to defend America, and so we
keep our silence. Because, to be very frank with you, how can we defend
America?" the New York Times reported today.

The New York Times reported that Crown Prince Abdullah said Saudi Arabia had
not discussed a change in the American military presence in Saudi Arabia.
"But he did not respond directly to a question about whether Saudi Arabia
was seeking to alter or reduce the mission to make the presence less

Crown Prince Abdullah "made clear that preserving the status quo also
extended to Saudi politics and society, saying the kingdom had no intention
of adopting American-style democracy or heeding American disquiet, say, over
Saudi attitudes toward women" the New York Times report said.

Meantime, in another report by the NY Times, Prince Nawwaf bin Abdul Aziz,
the kingdom's director of the intelligence service said Saudi Arabia would
not support an American military campaign against Iraq or any other Arab or
Muslim country saying "Some days you say you want to attack Iraq, some days
Somalia, some days Lebanon, some days Syria," he said. "Who do you want to
attack? All the Arab world? And you want us to support that? It's
impossible. It's impossible."



Dezful, Khuzestan Prov., Jan 26, IRNA -- Director General of Foreign
Nationals and Expatriates Affairs Department Hojjatoleslam Hassanali
Ebrahimi said here on Saturday that Iran in cooperation with Iraq had
provided necessary facilities for voluntary repatriation of Iraqi refugees.

Ebrahimi told IRNA on Saturday that formation of an Iran-Iraq joint
committee on refugees has facilitated the voluntary return home of Iraqi
refugees residing in Iran by offering necessary documents.

He said the committee had in its Saturday meeting reached important
agreements on voluntary repatriation of the Afghan refugees.

He put the total number of registered Iraqi refugees in Iran at 220,000 and
said the figure would rise to 300,000 if the unregistered refugees are taken
into account.

He predicted that 1,600 Iranians residing in Iraq will return home on their
own will early next year.

He said there are 20,000 Iranian refugees in different Iraqi refugee camps.

The Iranian official touched on Afghan refugees and said per an agreement
reached with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the
voluntary repatriation of the refugees will be accelerated as of early next

He put the total number of Afghan refugees residing in Iran at about

by Edith M. Lederer
Washington Post (from Associated Press), 28th January

UNITED NATIONS ­­ Britain accused Syria late Monday of illegally importing
and selling millions of barrels of Iraqi oil in the most serious violation
of U.N. sanctions against Iraq since 1990.

It marked the first time that Syria, which joined the U.N. Security Council
this month, was directly confronted with the charge of oil smuggling in the
committee monitoring sanctions.

Norway's U.N. Ambassador Ole Peter Kolby, the sanctions committee chairman,
said Syria was unable to respond because debate opened late Monday. He
postponed further discussion until the committee next meets, but no date has
been set.

"My impression is that the members of the committee are interested, and were
anxious to discuss it, but there was no time now," he said.

Syria has repeatedly denied that it is importing Iraqi oil through a
pipeline that had been closed for nearly 18 years.

But Britain charged that Iraq is currently shipping over 100,000 barrels of
oil a day to Syria through the pipeline in violation of sanctions imposed
after Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, a British official said.

The Iraqi oil is allowing Syria to increase its oil exports, without a
corresponding increase in its own domestic oil production, the official
said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Even if Syria is engaged in a barter arrangement with Iraq, it needs
approval from the sanctions committee and has not sought an exception, the
British official stressed.

"It's the most serious violation of sanctions since 1990 because of the
volume of oil," the British official said.

Running at its full capacity, the pipeline could pump 200,000 barrels per
day, generating $1 billion a year in illegal revenue to the Iraqi
government, the official said.

Britain and the United States have sought to stop Iraqi oil smuggling,
contending that it helps finance Saddam's efforts to rebuild his military
and banned weapons programs.

The economic sanctions against Iraq can't be lifted until U.N. weapons
inspectors certify that the country's weapons of mass destruction have been

But the Security Council made an exception in 1996, allowing Iraq to sell
oil provided the revenue went into a U.N. escrow account to buy food and
other humanitarian supplies for civilians and to pay compensation to victims
of the 1991 Gulf War.

Iraq views the so-called oil-for-food program as meddling in its economic
independence, and over the last two years has sought to wrest control of its
oil revenue from the United Nations.

Britain submitted newspaper accounts of the Syrian oil imports from Iraq to
the sanctions committee, but said the sharp increase in Syrian oil exports
since late 2000 is sufficient evidence.

Jim Placke of Cambridge Energy Resources Associates, a market forecasting
firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said in August that Iraq appeared to be
illegally exporting 120,000-150,000 barrels of crude a day to Syria through
the recently restored pipeline.

The Iraqi oil, sold to Syria at a discount in exchange for cash and goods,
is processed into petroleum products at Syrian refineries, allowing Syria to
export an equivalent amount of its own oil, officials and analysts say.

Iraq is also known to illegally export oil by truck to Turkey, and by tanker
through the Persian Gulf.

But Iran's more aggressive enforcement of U.N. sanctions led to a nearly 50
percent decline in Iraqi oil smuggling last year, a U.S. admiral said in
November, and exports have also been significantly reduced to Turkey in
recent months.


Xinhuanet, 28th January

TEHRAN, January 28 (Xinhuanet) -- Iran and Iraq, two regional rival foes,
have intensified diplomatic drives to normalize relations, as Iraqi Foreign
Minister Naji Sabri Ahmed toured the bickering neighbor amid hopes to forge
healthier ties at a time when Iraq faces potential U.S. attack for allegedly
supporting terrorism.

Ahmed, whose four-day visit was at the invitation of his Iranian counterpart
Kamal Kharazi, expressed hope to "solve the last outstanding issues from the
(Iran-Iraq) war with the Iranian authorities" when touching down in Tehran.

The top Iraqi diplomat said after meeting Kharazi that "Baghdad is keen on
increasing exchanges between the two countries," adding that his country
would "do everything possible" to do away with the bitter memories of the

While receiving Ahmed, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on Sunday called
on both sides to look to the future and forget the bitter past as far as
their religious, historical and cultural bonds are concerned, State Radio

Ahmed's visit, the latest in a series of efforts made by both countries to
mend their fences, is expected to lead to normalization of bilateral ties.

An Iranian delegation headed by Amir Hussein Zamani, a consultant for
Kharazi, was in Baghdad earlier this month for talkswith Iraqi officials on
ways to boost bilateral ties and settle theoutstanding "humanitarian"

Zamani was commissioned to finalized the talks on the fate of the remaining
Iranian POWs (prisons of war) and MIAs (missing in action) of the Iran-Iraq

Iran and Iraq waged a war from 1980 to 1988 that left hundreds of thousands
dead on each side.

For more than 13 years following their ceasefire, the two neighbors have yet
to sign a peace treaty and the thorny issues such as the POWs and the
support for each other's opposition groups have seriously marred the
normalization of the bilateral ties.

Iran says more than 3,000 of its forces are still held in Iraqi prisons and
refutes Baghdad's claims that it holds nearly 29,000 Iraqi soldiers.

In Tehran, animosity lingers over Baghdad's sheltering and supporting for
the Iraq-based Iranian armed opposition Mujahideen Khalq Organization (MKO),
which has often engaged in attacks against Iran.

As a concrete step for a diplomatic thaw, Iran has released 682 Iraqi
prisoner of war over the past few days in accordance with recent
negotiations by the two countries to resume the exchange of POWs. In
exchange, Iraq freed 50 Iranian prisoners held in Iraq forborder violations
or illegal residence.

In another positive move, Iranian planes are allowed to use Iraq airspace
for direct flights to Syria following agreement reached here by visiting
Iraqi Transport Minister Ahmad Murtada Ahmad and his Iranian counterpart
Ahmad Khoram.

Flights between Tehran and Damascus have detoured over Turkey toavoid the
two no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq which were imposed by the
Western allies after the 1991 Gulf War and patrolled by U.S. and British

Earlier, Ahmed had noted that remaining disputes between Iran and Iraq will
be hazardous for both countries, as "the current conditions of the region
are highly critical and this calls for Iran's and Iraq's joint efforts to
solve all remaining problems."

While Tehran received Ahmed with open arms, the motive and timing of his
visit did not go unquestioned by Iran's critical media.

As the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan comes to an end and Iraq becomes a
potential target of the U.S. military campaign, its war-time olive branch is
seen to reflect Baghdad's concern over being further isolated.

The English-language daily Iran News has said in a recent editorial that the
current diplomatic drives are not the first time Iraq has tried
rapprochement, as many Iraqi official delegations visited Tehran and urged
reconciliation between the bitter rivals in the months leading up to the
Gulf War in 1991.

The paper pointed out that at this crucial juncture, "Iraq needs as many
friends in the region as it can get."

Tehran Times has also questioned Iraq's sincerity over developing ties with
Iran by pointing out that whenever Iraq has come under pressure or felt
threatened by outside powers, it has changed its attitude towards its
neighboring countries, calling for brotherly relations with its neighbors.

But the two countries have found common ground in cooperation by sharing a
sworn enemy, the United States, who has failed to see eye to eye on regional
and global issues with the two headstrong regional powers who dare to
challenge it from time to time.

At this critical stage, Iran and Iraq have expressed readiness to close the
file of all outstanding issues and put aside their disputes for mutual
security and interests, at least for the time being.

VOA News, 28th January

In a step toward better relations between former enemies, Iraq says it will
soon allow Iranian pilgrims to fly directly to Baghdad.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri made the announcement during his visit to
Iran. He is quoted by Iran's news agency as saying the air route between the
two countries will resume soon, but he did not say when.

Mr. Sabri said the visits of Iranian pilgrims is very important for Iraq,
calling the visits an essential element in the development of relations
between two Muslim countries.

Iranian pilgrims must now travel overland to the Shi'ite Muslim holy sites
at Karbala and Nafaf.

It is not clear if Iraq plans to inform the United Nations sanctions
committee about the planned flights.

There have been no flights between Iraq and Iran for more than 20 years.,9171,1101020204-197646,00.html

Time. 4th February

First there were the trucks. They started rolling into southern and western
Afghanistan late last year, full of clothes and food and medical supplies
for delivery to a few lucky warlords and their charges, courtesy of Iran.
Then came the money, brought by Iranian intelligence agents who entered
Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban to try to gain influence over
local commanders. An Iranian general named Sadar Baghwani started showing up
at Afghan mosques, reportedly telling Afghans to resist the U.S. presence in
their country. "The Americans are infidels," he said. And then there are the
weapons, which Western officials believe Iran is funneling directly to
Ismail Khan--the strongman in the Afghan city of Herat and a longtime client
of Tehran who has been reluctant to obey the new Afghan government in Kabul.
That has led the U.S. and its Afghan allies to a familiar conclusion: Tehran
is up to no good. "Iran's real objective," says Yousef Pashtun, secretary to
the governor of Kandahar, "is to create as much instability as possible to
the establishment of a permanent government in Afghanistan."

With thousands of American soldiers now calling Kandahar home and
post-Taliban stability nowhere in sight, Washington isn't brooking Iranian
mischief in Afghanistan. Three weeks ago, responding to reports that Iran
was sending arms to pliant Afghan warlords and even harboring al-Qaeda
fugitives, President Bush issued an ultimatum: "If they in any way, shape or
form try to destabilize the government," he said, "the coalition will deal
with them, in diplomatic ways initially." The line played well with most
Americans, who are still inclined to believe the worst about Iran.
Washington lists Iran as the top state sponsor of terrorism and regularly
warns that Tehran is developing nuclear weapons. The U.S. last year cited an
Iranian military officer for helping engineer the 1996 bombing of the Khobar
Towers barracks in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. servicemen. Iran's
hard-line establishment continues to support the destruction of Israel and
has aided and abetted the radical Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad
as well as Lebanon's Hizballah militia. The State Department said on Jan. 10
that "the weight of the evidence" suggests Iran was involved in the thwarted
shipment of 50 tons of arms to the Palestinian Authority, despite Iran's
denial. As TIME reported, Israel says the shipment was orchestrated by
operatives close to Imad Mughniyah, a notorious Hizballah terrorist who has
long enjoyed support from Iran.


Arabic News, 31st January

The London- based al-Sharq al-Awsat daily on Wednesday said quoting
well-informed Iranian sources that the Iraqi foreign minister Naji Sabri
al-Hadithi, who visited Tehran this week showed a sudden flexibility towards
the urgent Iranian request to Baghdad's halting support for the opposition
Iranian "Mujahidi Khalq organization which takes Iraq as a headquarters for
launching military attacks against the Iranian territories.

The sources explained in a statement to the paper that the meeting between
al-Hadithi with the Iranian security minister Ali Younis resulted in a
preliminary agreement that will be discussed in details later and President
Saddam Hussein to approve it.

The agreements states that Baghdad is to ban the attacks by Mujahidee Khalq
from Iraq while Iran will prevent " Feilaq Bader" members -- an opposition
organization which belongs to the higher council of the Islamic revolution
in Iraq to keep apart from the border line with Iraq from 5 to 10 km.

In contrary to what was announced by al-Hadithi on Monday, Iranian sources
stressed that the plan to resume air flights between the two countries to
transports people who desire to visit the holy Shiite sites was frozen to be
discussed at the meantime because Iran has received strong signals from the
UN secretary general Kofi Annan during his recent visit to Tehran that this
matter will not be welcomed at the UN.

Los Angeles Times (from Reuters), 31st January

BAGHDAD -- Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has ordered a memorial to be
erected in one of Baghdad's main squares in honor of the first Palestinian
female suicide bomber, Iraqi newspapers reported Wednesday.

Wafa Idris, 30, detonated explosives in Jerusalem on Sunday, killing herself
and an elderly Israeli and wounding dozens of people.

"The stand of the brave martyr . . . affects the enemy's morale in the
interest of our nation and the Palestinian cause," the reports quoted
Hussein's decree as saying. It was issued after a Cabinet meeting Tuesday,
they said.

Las Vegas Sun, 1st February.

WASHINGTON- King Abdullah II of Jordan praised President Bush's campaign to
counter terrorism Friday and said other countries "better make up their
minds pretty quickly" to join it.

Welcoming the endorsement in the Oval Office, the president cautioned that
"all options are on the table on how to make our allies more secure."

Bush also admonished Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for the attempt by the
Palestinians to smuggle in 50 tons of weapons from Iran.

He said the rockets, mortar and explosives were intended "for terrorist
purpose" and that the smuggling, which Israeli commandos aborted in the Red
Sea on Jan. 3, was contrary to a promise by the Palestinian leader that he
would fight against terror.

Calling on Bush at the White House, Abdullah supported the president's
designation of three countries, Iran, Iraq and North Korea, as an "axis of

It was a significant step for the Arab monarch. Jordan sits alongside Iraq
in the restive Middle East and is inclined to be careful about irritating
its larger neighbor. During the Persian Gulf war a decade ago, for instance,
Jordan sided with Iraq while most Arab countries supported the U.S. campaign
to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi annexation.

"It is very obvious that there are those on the side of good and those on
the side of bad and some in the middle, who haven't made up their minds,"
the king said during an exchange with reporters in the Oval Office.

Bush at his side, Abdullah said there was a new expectation about what
countries must do in the anti-terror campaign spearheaded by the Untied

"There's some countries in the middle that haven't made up their mind....
And those countries better make up their minds pretty quickly," Abdullah

The president agreed. "I hope nations make the right decision," Bush said.
"A wrong decision would be to continue to export weapons of mass

At the same time, Bush said he was open to a dialogue with North Korea. He
called on the reclusive Pyongyang regime to "pull back some conventional
weaponry" on the Korean peninsula and "make a clear declaration of their
peace intentions."

The president steered clear of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's
statement this week that he regretted not having killed Arafat. Instead,
Bush suggested it was best to keep the focus on on "what derails peace, and
what derails peace is terror."

Even before calling on Bush for a breakfast meeting, Abdullah praised the
president's approach to the tangled Middle East situation.

The session with an Arab leader projects for Bush a message that even while
putting pressure on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the administration is
mindful of Arab sentiments.

Abdullah, whose late father, King Hussein, was pivotal to U.S. peacemaking,
has kept Israel at arm's length but also has maintained only a distant
relationship with Arafat.

In Jordan, where Palestinian Arabs are in the majority, Abdullah is trying
to turn around a weak economy with a program to bring change to the economy
and social justice to the society.

Bush, meanwhile, has made clear his disappointment with Arafat and has
invited Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the White House next week,
his fourth visit in less than a year.

Abdullah, after meeting Thursday with Secretary of State Colin Powell, said
Bush was striking "a fair balance" designed to find a way out of violence
and toward peace and stability for Israelis and Palestinians.

"The president, in his heart, I know wants to alleviate the suffering of the
Palestinians and give hope and security to the Palestinians," Abdullah said.

The praise could strengthen Bush's hand with the Arabs as he pursues a
strategy of pressuring Arafat to curb Palestinian attacks on Israel.

Criticism of Israel has been negligible in recent weeks; criticism of the
Palestinian leader has escalated.

"Obviously, the ongoing cycle of violence has been a tremendous obstacle to
us all," Abdullah said at a joint news conference with Powell.

The king has lent his support in his three years on the throne to
Palestinian calls for an independent state.

For its part, the Bush administration has sidetracked U.S. mediation between
Israel and the Palestinians until violence subsides.

Bush has been trying to enlist Arab leaders to support his campaign to end
Palestinian attacks, at the same time offering assurances he intends to
follow through on his endorsement of Palestinian statehood.

Next week, Ahmed Qureia, speaker of the Palestinian parliament, is due to
see Powell and discuss with him "how to find ways and means to go back to
the negotiating table," said Hassan Abdel Rahman, the senior Palestinian
official in the United States.

Powell was to meet Friday in New York with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon
Peres, who for years has favored Israeli concessions to Arafat's Palestinian

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