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News, 26/1-2/2/02 (2) MILITARY MATTERS * 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 SAUDI/US RELATIONS * 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/MIDDLE EASTERN-ARAB WORLD RELATIONS * 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 Battlefield * 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.] URLs ONLY: http://www.irna.com/newshtm/eng/08103109.htm * 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. http://dawn.com/fixed/subs/dinasub.htm * 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. http://www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/w-me/2002/jan/31/013101924.html * Allies More Important for Iraq Las Vegas Sun, 31st January Summary of Iraq¹s relations with immediate neighbours. MILITARY MATTERS http://www.arabicnews.com/ansub/Daily/Day/020126/2002012612.html * IRAQI FORCES INTERCEPTED BRITISH, AMERICAN WARPLANES FORMATIONS 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. http://www.csmonitor.com/ (though this requires payment to access it. I got a version at http://www.dawn.com/2002/01/26/int13.htm, 26th January, but it was quite heavily cut. The version below was posted to the discussion list) * IRAQ: THE PHANTOM THREAT 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 relationship. 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. http://www.reuters.com/news_article.jhtml?type=worldnews&StoryID=560591 * IRAQ CO-OPERATED WITH NUCLEAR INSPECTION -- IAEA 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 Iraq. 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 Kuwait. 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. SAUDI/US RELATIONS http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0203/trilling.php * AMERICA GOES INTO THE ENERGY BUSINESS WITH THE FORMER EVIL EMPIRE 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 ended. 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. http://www.dawn.com/2002/01/26/int10.htm * WASHINGTON-RIYADH CHILL INTENSIFIES 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 investigation. 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. http://www.nydailynews.com/2002-01-27/News_and_Views/Beyond_the_City/a 139472.asp * WHY WE NEED TIES WITH SAUDIS 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 Arabia. 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. ally? 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 there. 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. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chi 0201270038jan27.story?coll=chi%2Dnewsopinion%2Dhed * FAREWELL, SAUDI ARABIA 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. http://www.arabicnews.com/ansub/Daily/Day/020129/2002012946.html * SAUDIS ARE SAYING THAT 100 OF THEIR NATIONALS ARE AMONG THOSE WHO ARE DETAINED BY THE US 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." http://www.arabicnews.com/ansub/Daily/Day/020128/2002012824.html * SAUDI MINISTRY OF THE INTERIOR CONTINUES RECEIVING INQUIRIES ABOUT SAUDIS ARRESTED IN USA 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). http://www.arabicnews.com/ansub/Daily/Day/020129/2002012943.html * CROWN PRINCE ABDULLAH ADDRESS SAUDI ATTITUDE TOWARDS US POLICY 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 visible." 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." IRAQI/MIDDLE EASTERN-ARAB WORLD RELATIONS http://www.irna.com/newshtm/eng/06193810.htm * IRAQI REFUGEES TO RETURN HOME VOLUNTARILY 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 year. He put the total number of Afghan refugees residing in Iran at about 2,300,000. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A52199-2002Jan28.html * SYRIA ACCUSED OF VIOLATING SANCTIONS 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 dismantled. 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. [.....] http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2002-01/28/content_257224.htm * ROUNDUP: IRAN, IRAQ EDGE CLOSER BEFORE U.S. SHIFTS ANTI-TERRORISM BATTLEFIELD 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 past. 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 reported. 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" issues. 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 War. 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 warplanes. 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. http://www.voanews.com/article.cfm?objectid=1467E5A4-BA48-44A9 BBE75C4A10F5BD54&Title=Iraq%20to%20Permit%20Direct%20Flights%20for%20Iranian %20Pilgrims&CatOID=45C9C78D-88AD-11D4-A57200A0CC5EE46C * IRAQ TO PERMIT DIRECT FLIGHTS FOR IRANIAN PILGRIMS 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. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1101020204-197646,00.html * TEHRAN'S GAME BY ROMESH RATNESAR 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. [.....] http://www.arabicnews.com/ansub/Daily/Day/020131/2002013115.html * IRAQ, IRAN AGREEMENT TO HALT MUJAHIDEE KHALQ ACTIVITIES 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. http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la 000007890jan31.story?coll=la%2Dheadlines%2Dworld * IRAQ TO HONOR FEMALE BOMBER 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. http://www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/bw-wh/2002/feb/01/020104114.html * JORDAN'S KING BACKS BUSH ON IRAN, IRAQ 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 evil." 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 States. "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 said. The president agreed. "I hope nations make the right decision," Bush said. "A wrong decision would be to continue to export weapons of mass destruction." 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 Authority. -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email email@example.com CASI's website - www.casi.org.uk - includes an archive of all postings.