The Saudi Question

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RIYADH: Saudi Arabia said Monday it would support a U.S. attack on Iraq if diplomacy fails, but, according to high-placed Saudi sources, it hasn't agreed to be a staging ground for the attack and that, at least, is good news for Saddam. The lack of a ground-based command-and-control structure, including airstrips and vast support facilities, would affect the scale and scope of an American assault. "If it's a carrier-based attack they won't be able to deliver much firepower," says TIME Washington correspondent Douglas Waller. "Not having any ground-based assets forces you to limit the intensity of the attack."

Crisis in IraqMadeleine Albright, touring the Gulf Monday and stopping off in Riyadh, conspicuously sidestepped the issue of using Saudi bases. "If we had gotten a yes," fretted one anonymous administration official, "she would have said so." TIME's man at the Pentagon, Mark Thompson, thinks it's only a matter of time and pressure. "We saved Saudi Arabia from potential invasion during the Gulf War," says Thompson. "They owe us a lot of money. If we want to use those bases, we will get them."

Monday evening the Saudis issued a statement saying responsibility for a U.S. attack on Iraq would "lie exclusively on the Iraqi regime." But they urged a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

That seems less than likely now. Saddam hasn't budged: U.N. inspectors are still barred from inspecting presidential sites despite a flurry of diplomatic activity with Russian envoys and erroneous reports that a deal had been reached. But with his Arab neighbors still wary of American intervention, and facing the prospect of a less-than-punishing attack, why should he budge?