Saudi Arabia refuses to lend U.S. bases

CAIRO, Egypt

Saudi Arabia will not allow bases on its soil to be used for an attack on Iraq even if the United Nations authorizes military action, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said in an interview broadcast yesterday.

Saudi Arabia earlier ruled out the use of its territory for unilateral U.S. action against Iraq, but had indicated it would cooperate in some way if the U.N. Security Council approved.

In the CNN interview, however, Saud said more clearly that Saudi cooperation would not include permitting use of its territory for strikes against Iraq.

“We will cooperate with the Security Council, but as to entering the conflict or using the facilities as part of the conflict, that is something else,” Saud said.

Pressed about whether Saudi bases could be used, he gave a definite “no.”

In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer refused to comment on the CNN interview.

Saud also said his government believed it was still possible to avoid war.

“Iraq has made a very clear and unambiguous promise to the Arab countries that it will abide by the United Nations resolutions,” he said.

The Security Council is debating a U.S. proposal to toughen U.N. weapons inspections after Iraq agreed to allow inspectors to return after nearly four years.

Protests threaten U.S. movement against Iraq

CAIRO, Egypt

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein said in a rare interview that he believed the American and British determination to make war on Iraq could collapse under the weight of anti-war sentiment in the two countries.

“Time is in our favor, and we have to buy more time hoping that the U.S.-British alliance might disintegrate because of … the pressure of public opinion on American and British streets,” Saddam told the Egyptian weekly Al-Osboa in the interview published yesterday.

“The demonstrations in the Arab and Western world include hundreds of thousands of peace-loving people who are protesting the war and aggression on Iraq,” he said, apparently referring to protests in the United States and around the world last month.

Pointing to Arab public opinion as a force in Iraq’s favor, Saddam also appealed to Arab leaders to defend Iraq.

Arguing that Washington’s goal was to control Mideast oil, he said that after attacking Iraq, U.S. forces could strike at other Arab countries and non-Arab Iran.

Sharon, Netanyahu ally to stabilize Israel

JERUSALEM

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sought to keep his imperiled government afloat yesterday by bringing former premier Benjamin Netanyahu into the Cabinet, while Netanyahu set a tough condition for joining – early elections.

Israel’s two leading right-wing politicians, Sharon and Netanyahu, are trying to work out an alliance while also battling each other to lead the Likud Party into the country’s next general election.

The ballot must be held before next November, but could be brought forward to early next year if Sharon resigns or if his fragile coalition collapses in the coming days or weeks. That could plunge Israel into even greater turmoil as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict drags on and with the threat of a U.S. war with Iraq on the horizon.

In the complex rivalry between Sharon and Netanyahu, both stressed their efforts to resolve the current political crisis.

Chechens shoot at Russian helicopter

VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia

Chechen rebels shot down a Russian military helicopter yesterday, killing nine soldiers, shortly after the defense minister announced he was suspending plans to cutback Moscow’s force in the troubled province.

In the second such attack in less than a week, the Mi-8 helicopter, carrying three military crew and six troops, was hit as it lifted off from Russia’s military headquarters in the southern republic. The Interfax news agency reported that all nine soldiers onboard were killed.

“I have made a decision to suspend the plans on cutting down troops in Chechnya,” Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told journalists in Khabarovsk in the Russian Far East.

Russian officials have repeatedly said that they have the situation under control in Chechnya.

Army seeks funds for war on terrorism

WASHINGTON

The Army is considering contracting out nearly 214,000 military and civilian support jobs to the private sector in an ambitious plan to free money to fight terrorism and comply with President Bush’s desire to trim the federal government through outsourcing.

Army Secretary Thomas White has directed his commanders to submit plans by Dec. 20 to privatize or outsource all functions not essential to fighting wars. If approved, the unprecedented government overhaul could begin this spring and affect two-thirds of the Army civilian work force. Military personnel would be reassigned.

“The Army must focus its energies and talents on our core competencies – functions we perform better than anybody else.”

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