RIYADH - A senior Saudi official denied reports of a secret promise by Riyadh to make its airspace and bases available for use by the United States in the event of war against Iraq, in remarks published Monday.
"This report is untrue. The kingdom's position on this issue has been very clear from the start," Deputy Defense Minister Prince Abdulrahman bin Abdul Aziz told Okaz daily.
The New York Times on Sunday quoted senior US military officials as saying Riyadh would make its airspace, air bases and an important operations center available to the United States in a possible war with Iraq.
Saudi Arabia was the main staging area for American forces in the 1991 Gulf war, but conflicting public statements by top Saudi officials over the past several months have cast doubt on Saudi Arabia's assistance against Iraq. American commanders told the Times they have been given private assurances in recent weeks that they will be allowed to run an air war against Iraq from a sophisticated command center at Prince Sultan Air Base outside Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's capital - the same command post that ran the air campaign in Afghanistan.
They said refueling, reconnaissance, surveillance and cargo planes would be allowed to fly from Saudi bases, using Saudi airspace on the way to missions in or near Iraq.
They also expressed confidence that the Saudis would ultimately allow attack missions, which are more politically sensitive, to be flown from their soil.
Prince Abdulrahman reiterated Saudi commitment to supporting the "UN decision regarding the imposition of the no-fly zone over southern Iraq."
"This is well-known to all ... The kingdom is committed to the UN resolutions like all other countries. (but) We are not concerned with any thing else," he said in reference to the Times report.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal last Tuesday renewed the kingdom's rejection of a threatened US war against neighboring Iraq, saying Riyadh would not take part in any military action.
"If the UN Security Council sanctions war against Iraq, this requires cooperation by all countries ... But this does not mean all countries must take part in military action. Obviously, we will not take part in military actions," Prince Saud said.
"There has been no change in the duties of foreign troops in the kingdom since the end of the 1991 Gulf war."
Saudi Arabia houses some 5,000 US troops as well as British and French jets at Prince Sultan Air Base in al-Kharj, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Riyadh.
The Times said Saudi officials over the past two months have quietly permitted US warplanes based in the kingdom to bomb targets in southern Iraq in response to Iraqi violations of the no-flight zone there. Previously, those missions were flown out of Kuwait, according to the daily.