Thu, Dec 14, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Saudis could fund Sunnis if US pulls out of Iraq

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , WASHINGTON

Saudi Arabia has told the Bush administration that it might provide financial backing to Iraqi Sunnis in any war against Iraq's Shiites if the US pulls its troops out of Iraq, US and Arab diplomats said.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia conveyed that message to US Vice President Dick Cheney two weeks ago during Cheney's whirlwind visit to Riyadh, the officials said. During the visit, Abdullah also expressed strong opposition to diplomatic talks between the US and Iran and pushed for Washington to encourage the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, senior Bush administration officials said.

The Saudi warning reflects increased fear among the US' Sunni Arab allies about Iran's growing influence in Iraq, coupled with Tehran's nuclear ambitions. King Abdullah II of Jordan has also expressed concern about rising Shiite influence and about the possibility that Iraqi troops would be used by the Shiite-dominated government against the Sunni populace.

A senior Bush administration official said on Tuesday that part of the administration's wider review of Iraq policy involves the question of how to harness a coalition of moderate Iraqi Sunnis with centrist Shiites to back the Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Saudi Arabia's Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Turki al-Faisal, who told his embassy staff on Monday that he is resigning his post, recently fired Nawaf Obaid, a consultant who wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post two weeks ago in which he contended that "one of the first consequences" of a US pullout of Iraq would "be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis."

Obaid also suggested that Saudi Arabia could cut world oil prices in half by raising its production, a move he said "would be devastating to Iran, which is facing economic difficulties even without today's high oil prices."

The Saudi government disavowed Obaid's column, and Turki canceled his contract.

But Arab diplomats said on Tuesday that Obaid's column reflected the view of the Saudi government, which has made clear its opposition to a US pullout from Iraq.

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