Report: Saudis Warn Against US Pullout

The Associated Press
Wednesday, December 13, 2006; 11:45 AM

NEW YORK -- Saudi Arabia has warned Washington it might provide financial aid to Iraqi Sunnis in any fighting against Shiites if the U.S. pulls its troops out of Iraq, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

The White House dismissed the report.

"That's not Saudi government policy," press secretary Tony Snow said in Washington.

"The Saudis have made it clear that they're committed to the same goals we are, which is a self-sustaining Iraq that can sustain, govern and defend itself, that will recognize and protect the rights of all, regardless of sect or religion," Snow told reporters. "And furthermore, they share our concerns about the role the Iranians are playing in the region."

Saudi Arabia, a majority Sunni country, has promised U.S. officials that it would not intervene to assist Iraq's Sunni insurgency, according to the Times, which cited anonymous American and Arab diplomatic sources.

But that promise might not hold if U.S. troops leave Iraq, the newspaper said. The Bush administration has repeatedly said there are no plans for the immediate pullout of U.S. troops.

The Times reported that Saudi King Abdullah issued the warning to Vice President Dick Cheney two weeks ago during Cheney's visit to Riyadh. The message also emphasized the kingdom's displeasure with proposed talks between the U.S. government and Iran.

In Saudi Arabia, an official flatly denied the report. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to talk to the media.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the main military spokesman in Iraq, also dismissed the report, saying, "I don't think that came from the government of Saudi Arabia."

"And what the government of Saudi Arabia said was that was not an official position of their government and that the person who spoke, spoke out of place and has since then been removed from his position even," he told reporters in Baghdad. "So I think they were very concerned about what was said themselves."

The AP reported last week that private citizens in Saudi Arabia are funneling money to Sunni insurgents in Iraq, often through either charitable donations or carried by trucks carrying pilgrims and their luggage between the two countries.

Iran _ a majority Shiite country _ is believed to be providing military and financial support to Shiite elements. The recently released Iraq Study Group report suggested the Bush administration engage Iran and neighboring Syria in talks aimed at applying pressure on Iraqi Shiites to keep what some analysts are calling a civil war from spiraling into a regional conflict.

Saudi Arabia has expressed concern that once U.S. troops leave Iraq that the controlling Shiite majority could massacre the Sunni minority, believed to comprise a large faction of the deadly insurgency that has claimed thousands of Iraqi civilian and U.S. military lives.

Saudi Arabia's fears seemed to have been exacerbated by growing discussions in Washington aimed at accelerating the timeframe for bringing troops home.

© 2006 The Associated Press