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No decision yet, says Bush

By Sridhar Krishnaswami

Washington AUG. 28. The U.S. President, George W Bush, has reportedly told the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, that a decision to attack Iraq had not yet been reached. On his part, the top Saudi diplomat once again expressed his country's opposition to the war plan on Iraq.

Administration officials said at the hour-long meeting — described as both a social and official call — held at the President's Ranch at Crawford, Texas, a number of regional and bilateral issues were discussed. "They discussed a variety of issues, including prospects of enhancing peace in the Middle East. They discussed the war on terrorism and Saudi Arabia's co-operation in the war," the White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said.

The Bush administration is not too happy with the financial commitment that the kingdom has made to the new interim authority in Afghanistan. "The President made very clear again that he believes that Saddam Hussein is a menace to world peace, a menace to regional peace," the White House spokesman said. Administration officials said the top Saudi envoy went beyond the official line in expressing his sympathy with the American position.

The meeting with the Saudi Ambassador has to be seen beyond the immediate context of the administration pressing its case against the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein. Relations between the two countries have taken a downslide with Saudi Arabia particularly outraged at the suggestion that it was responsible for the horrific terror acts of September 11 last year as many of the hijackers were from the kingdom. A defence analyst went so far as to suggest that the administration should give an ultimatum to the kingdom to either stop supporting terrorism or face the consequences. The Bush administration quickly distanced itself from this private assessment.

The President on Monday telephoned Crown Prince Abdullah to reassure him that the recommendation did not reflect his views. The Crawford meeting takes place against increasing opposition to an American military attack against Iraq. Virtually, none of America's allies in West Asia or Europe have signed on to the plan. Qatar is the latest Arab state to join this bandwagon. This is a setback to Washington which had hoped to use facilities in this country for a military operation against Iraq.

The prospect of the United States going it alone, save the possible support of Britain, does not seem to bother the Republican administration. In fact, the hawkish Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has indicated that the United States may not wait for support from allies before launching an attack against Baghdad. "It is less important to have unanimity than it is in making the right decision and doing the right thing, even though at the outset it may seem lonesome," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "Leadership in the right direction finds followers and supporters," the top Pentagon civilian official told members of the First Marine Division. Mr. Rumsfeld also said the war "frenzy" was not useful. At the State Department, its spokesman, Richard Boucher, stressed that the President had not decided how to remove the regime in Iraq and "therefore there are no war drums to beat".

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