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Bush Makes Case Against Saddam in Talks with Saudi Ambassador - 2002-08-27

President Bush met with Saudi Arabia's ambassador Tuesday to discuss plans for Mideast peace and a possible military strike against Iraq. The White House says Mr. Bush has made no decision about attacking Saddam Hussein.

President Bush and Saudi Prince Bandar met for about an hour before lunch with their families at the president's Texas ranch.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the talks included ways to reduce Israeli-Palestinian violence. "They discussed a variety of issues including prospects of enhancing peace in the Middle East," he noted. "They discussed the war on terrorism and Saudi Arabia's cooperation in the war."

Mr. Fleischer said they discussed the president's desire to remove Saddam Hussein from power but says there has still been no decision on attacking Iraq.

"On the topic of Iraq, 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," pointed out Mr. Fleischer. "And the president made very clear again that he believes Saddam Hussein is a menace to world peace, a menace to regional peace, and the world and region will be safer and better off without Saddam Hussein."

Saudi Arabia opposes any U.S. military action against Iraq and says it will not allow U.S. jets to use the kingdom as a staging area for an attack.

That refusal has led to another round of U.S. media reports suggesting that Saudi Arabia is supporting terrorists. Earlier this month, 700 relatives of people killed in the September 11 attacks filed suit against the Saudi and Sudanese governments claiming that they helped finance Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

Mr. Fleischer said the lawsuit did not come up in Tuesday's talks but the president did express his confidence in the kingdom's commitment to fighting terrorism.

Hours before the meeting, Mr. Bush reaffirmed what he called the "eternal friendship" with Saudi Arabia in a telephone call to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.

On the divisive diplomatic issue of Iraq, Mr. Fleischer said President Bush welcomes the chance to make his case against Saddam Hussein.

"Every time the president meets with foreign leaders and the topic of Iraq comes up, the president thinks it is a constructive exchange of ideas," he 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."

Mr. Fleischer says the president also asked Saudi Arabia to help resolve custody cases involving children who have been abducted from the United States. The U.S. State Department says Saudi courts almost always side with Saudi fathers in custody cases involving non-Saudi mothers.