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Saudis: No airspace, bases for Iraq strike

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal

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Ever since the September 11th attacks, relations between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have been strained. CNN's Christiane Amanpour reports (November 4)
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JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (CNN) -- Saudi Arabia's foreign minister pledged his country's allegiance with the United States in its fight against the al Qaeda terrorist group, but said Saudi Arabia would not allow its bases and airspace to be used in any U.S.-led military strike against Iraq.

"We will cooperate with the [U.N.] Security Council, but as to entering the conflict or using the facilities as part of the conflict, that's something else," Prince Saud al-Faisal told CNN's Christiane Amanpour in a recent interview, when asked about allowing overflights by U.S. forces.

"So that's a 'no'?" Amanpour asked. "No," al-Faisal said.

Saudi Arabia played a critical role in providing support bases and air support to the U.S. coalition during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Al-Faisal said Saudi Arabia would "support the political sentiment" of a possible war against Iraq by its U.S. ally, but he held out hope that a military conflict could be avoided through the United Nations.

"We think it is feasible. Iraq has made a very clear and unambiguous promise to the Arab countries that it will abide by the United Nations resolutions and so we think the road is set for that," he said.

If the United States removes Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power, al-Faisal said Saudis are worried about U.S. occupation in the country.

"History tells us that whatever change you believe you can bring to the country that you occupy, you can never make a permanent change through occupation by a foreign force in the country," he said.

"Iraq is not Japan. Saddam Hussein is not the emperor Hirohito and I don't know if the general that's going to be is going to be MacArthur."

Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in World War II, oversaw the occupation government of Japan from 1945 to 1951. He was in charge of rebuilding Japan and the reform of its political, economic and social institutions.

Al-Faisal also addressed the effects of the September 11 terror attacks on Saudi Arabia's relationship with the United States.

"Saudi Arabia did not suddenly emerge from a friend and ally to the kernel of all evil in the Middle East because of anything that Saudi Arabia did," he said. "It is because of what [Osama] bin Laden planned and his plan [of] diabolically including using 15 Saudi [sic] in his attack on the United States.

"He knew full well that he had other foot soldiers to use in [the September 11 attacks], but he choose Saudis and he choose Saudis for an intent and the intent -- a self-professed intent -- is to get the United States out of here ... [to] make a gulf between the United States and Saudi Arabia that is unbridgeable."

Saudi Arabia stripped bin Laden of his Saudi citizenship in 1994 and froze all assets he had in the country.

Saudis were just as distraught as Americans, according to the Saudi foreign minister, when they learned that their fellow countrymen were responsible for hijacking the four airliners that crashed into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and a rural Pennsylvania field. That fourth plane was most likely intended to hit another target in Washington, D.C.

"The trauma of the act, the reaction of the American people, I can sympathize with," Al-Faisal said. "There was no less a traumatic experience for the Saudis after what happened on 9/11.

"It was such a shock, such an unbelievable circumstance, such an event that cannot enter the consciousness of the Saudi people that Saudis did this violence that we said it was impossible.

"We even denied that Saudis were involved. Until today, you will find people who will tell you that it is impossible that Saudis were there ... but that has struck us deep," he said.

"We are never again going to let our young men and women be deluded by anybody in the way that we allowed our young men to be deluded when they went to Afghanistan for a jihad against an occupier and then be used for this horrendous, horrendous act of mass murder," he said.

Al-Faisal denounced a report from the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations which accused Saudi Arabia of turning a blind eye to individuals and charities raising funds for anti-Western groups. The report chided the United States for ignoring the situation, as well.

He said the report was "long on accusation and short on documented proof."

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