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Bush tells Saudi no decision on Iraq

Bush and Bandar bin Sultan
Bush talks with Bandar at the ranch house.  


From Suzanne Malveaux and Kelly Wallace
CNN Washington Bureau

CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) -- President Bush pressed his case against Iraq when he discussed problems in the Middle East with Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan at the president's ranch near here Tuesday, a spokesman said.

"The president stressed that he has made no decisions, that he will continue to engage in consultations with Saudi Arabia and other nations about steps in the Middle East, steps in Iraq," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters.

"The president made very clear again that he believes that Saddam Hussein is a menace to world peace, a menace to regional peace, and that the world and the region will be safer and better off without Saddam Hussein," Fleischer said.

In response to a question, Fleischer said the president did not raise the issue of a possible military attack against Iraq during the lunch session with Bandar.

"The president discussed Iraq in a general sense, because the president has not made a decision about the use of military action vis-a-vis Iraq," the Bush spokesman said.

The meeting, however, failed to change Saudi Arabia's strong opposition to a military attack.

"There is no country in the world that I know of that supports military action against Iraq at this time," Adel Al-Jubeir, a foreign policy adviser to the Saudi kingdom, told CNN.

"Why is that such a surprise to people? The reason that's the case is because people believe every option should be exhausted before the military option should be used."

Diplomacy and goals

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The Saudis made the case to the Bush team that getting weapons inspectors back inside Iraq would be the best way to deal with the threat posed by the Iraqi leader.

"If the objective is to dismantle the weapons of mass destruction program, we could probably do that without going to war," Al-Jubeir said.

"Why not use that option? Why do people want to risk the lives of tens of thousands of American men and women in uniform for an objective that can be achieved through negotiations?"

But a U.S. State Department spokesman said resuming inspections is not the goal.

"The issue is Iraqi compliance with a series of U.N. resolutions that specify that they won't develop weapons of mass destruction, that they'll destroy what they had, and in a variety of other ways that they're not going to threaten their own people and cause danger to the region again," said spokesman Richard Boucher.

The White House tried to put the focus on the positive, saying Bush and the prince agreed Saddam is a threat and that the president was able to make his case to Bandar.

"On the question of headway, I think it's fair to say that every time the president meets with foreign leaders and the topic of Iraq comes up, the president thinks it's a constructive exchange of ideas," Fleischer said.

"He listens carefully to the thoughts that people have about how to deal with Iraq. He hears them say and agree with him that Saddam Hussein is a threat, that Saddam Hussein is a menace. And then the president makes his case about why the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein there," he said.

Leadership, not consensus

Meanwhile, Iraq sent one of its vice presidents to Syria and Lebanon to try to pull together Arab support against a possible U.S. attack on Iraq.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri was dispatched to China and Russia, two permanent members of the U.N. Security Council that could veto an attempt by the United States to get U.N. backing for military action against Iraq.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Tuesday said the final decision on whether to attack Iraqi will be based on leadership, not consensus, despite growing public anxiety about the prospect of war in Iraq.

"It's less important to have unanimity than it is to be making the right decisions and doing the right thing, even though at the outset it may seem lonesome," Rumsfeld told Marines at Camp Pendleton.

He said history has shown when the United States makes right decisions, "other countries do cooperate and they do participate." (Full story)

Rumsfeld's comments came a day after the White House said it does not need congressional approval to launch such an attack and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney said the United States cannot wait until Iraq obtains nuclear weapons before taking action against Iraq. (Full story)

Mending fences

Before Tuesday's meeting, U.S. and Saudi officials called it a chance for the two countries to clear the air, and it appeared both sides were trying to set a conciliatory tone.

Bush and Bandar have been meeting on a regular basis, and Tuesday's visit was the prince's second to Bush's 1,600-acre ranch.

On the eve of the ambassador's visit, President Bush spoke for just about 20 minutes with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah by phone Monday.

They discussed "the progress on Middle East peace" and the "strong friendship and relationship between the two countries," said National Security Council spokesman Mike Anton.

Fleischer said Bush and Abdullah did not discuss Iraq during their phone call.

During Tuesday's meeting with Bandar, Fleischer said Bush and the prince did not discuss the $1 trillion lawsuit filed by relatives of September 11 victims against banks, charities and individuals that the suit alleges have helped finance the al Qaeda terrorist network.

The suit alleges that members of the Saudi royal family paid al Qaeda $200 million in "protection money" so that terror attacks would not be carried out in Saudi Arabia.

Sources familiar with the talks said the Saudi royal family considers the allegations in the lawsuit "culturally offensive and undignified."

Fleischer could not say if Bush and Bandar had a discussion about oil and reports the Saudis have told the United States they would increase oil supply to stabilize the markets if there were an attack on Iraq, a major oil producing country.

"As I indicated yesterday, the Saudis have a long-standing policy, which we have seen carried out in action in addition to rhetoric, about not using oil as a weapon," Fleischer said.

-- From CNN correspondents Suzanne Malveaux, Kelly Wallace and James Martone.