Saudis concerned about war’s ‘secondary effects’ in Muslim nations

By Robert Burns

Associated Press

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, preparing allies for possible military strikes in Afghanistan, said Saudi officials expressed concern Wednesday that a war on terrorism could create harmful “secondary effects” in the Muslim world.

Rumsfeld met in the Saudi capital with King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah, then dined at the palace of Prince Sultan, the kingdom’s minister of defense. It was the first stop on a mission to boost support from Arab and Central Asia nations with bases that could be vital for military action.

While the Saudis offered praise for President Bush’s handling of the crisis created by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, they also had concerns about their own security, Rumsfeld told reporters traveling with him.

“We had a very substantive and interesting and thoughtful discussion about the nature of the problem and the complexities of the problem, and the importance of dealing with it in a way that recognizes secondary effects that could occur,” the Pentagon chief said.

Rumsfeld said he stressed to his Saudi hosts that Bush is sensitive to concerns by Arab nations. He emphasized recent U.S. aid to Muslim nations such as Bosnia and Afghanistan.

“We recognize that there are elements in the world – terrorists and terrorist networks – that make an active effort to turn that portion of the globe against the West and the United States,” he said.

Saudi officials have said publicly that American troops must not use bases inside Saudi Arabia to launch attacks on other countries in the region, including Afghanistan.

At a midnight news conference at his palace, Prince Sultan was asked whether his country would permit the United States to use Saudi bases to launch attacks against the Taliban.

Speaking through an interpreter, he said the United States had made no such requests and that he and Rumsfeld had not discussed it.

“We do not feel there are any strikes that are going to be taken against the Taliban,” he said.

Rumsfeld, asked whether he had come to Riyadh to iron out such issues, indicated he saw no insurmountable problems.

“To the extent that nations are well-knitted together at the top … those kinds of things get worked out,” he said. “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as the keeper of the holy places in their religion, has a special responsibility, and we recognize that and are comfortable with it.”

The United States has fighter aircraft and other military planes based permanently in Saudi Arabia. Two aircraft carriers already are in the region, and two more on the way, including the USS Kitty Hawk.

Defense officials say the Kitty Hawk may be used as a floating base for U.S. military attacks to avoid launching strikes from Pakistan, which could rile people sympathetic to Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.

In Washington, the Pentagon called an additional 67 Marine Corps reservists to active duty. That brings the total National Guard and Reserve call-ups to 22,333 from 44 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Bush said he sent Rumsfeld to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt, and Uzbekistan because he wants leaders to see U.S. resolve face to face.

“People need to be able to look us in the eye and know that when we say that we’re in this for the long run, that we’re going to find terrorists and bring them to justice, we mean it,” Bush said.

Offering assurances to Arab states worried about instability, Bush added: “America is resolved to rout out terrorism, to make sure that legitimate governments can survive.”

Rumsfeld also undertook his Middle East tour to squeeze friendly governments for timely intelligence on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.

In an interview on the flight from Washington to Riyadh, Rumsfeld would speak only in the broadest terms about preparations for military action against either bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist network or the Taliban government that has been harboring him in Afghanistan.

He said the key was finding “actionable intelligence” – information to help find and arrest or eliminate bin Laden – not assembling an armada of warships and fleets of bombers.

Asked about a report that infantry from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division was being deployed to the region near Afghanistan, Rumsfeld’s chief spokeswoman, Victoria Clarke, said several units of the division were on a heightened state of alert but had not yet deployed.

The Washington Post said the 10th Mountain’s soldiers would provide security for other U.S. forces in Uzbekistan and be on standby as a quick reaction force in support of U.S. special operations forces there.

On Thursday Rumsfeld was headed for Oman and Egypt for meetings with officials there. On Friday he was to visit Uzbekistan, a former Soviet state that he indicated could be a key source of intelligence on al-Qaida.

“We want them to cooperate by giving us intelligence,” he said. “The countries on the periphery of Afghanistan in this case can have a lot more information than countries that are not on the periphery. They see the flow of people back and forth across those boarders.”

Rumsfeld stressed the importance of timely intelligence in winning the war on terrorism.

“It’s not going to be a cruise missile or a bomber that’s going to be the determining factor,” he said. “It’s going to be a scrap of information from some person in some country that is being oppressed by a dictatorial regime … that will enable us to pull this network up by its roots and end it.”

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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