Saudi Arabia warned yesterday that a U.S. attack on Iraq could destabilize the entire Middle East region.

In a slap at the White House, the Saudi government said the U.S. instead ought to engage in diplomacy to settle differences with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah voiced "concern over developments in the region, which warn of a war that could have adverse effects and destabilize the region and the world and lead to a humanitarian catastrophe," according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

After urging Iraq to comply with United Nations resolutions, Abdullah said he hoped "diplomacy would be given a chance."

The brusque comments are important because Saudi Arabia is a key Middle East ally, although some critics charge the country backs terrorism. At least 5,000 U.S. troops are stationed there.

Abdullah's remarks also represent an escalation in the tension between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, where 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were born.

The toughening of the Saudi stance against any attack on Iraq came as the White House denied yesterday that President Bush will discuss Saddam or Iraq tomorrow when a handful of his key advisers travels to his Crawford, Texas, ranch for a daylong briefing.

Spokesman Ari Fleischer said Iraq would not come up during the meeting. Instead, Bush wants to talk about reforming the Pentagon, budgets and missile defense plans.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Chief of Staff Andrew Card and Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are all coming to Texas to interrupt Bush's monthlong working vacation.

In recent weeks, Bush has come under fire from Democrats and Republicans for failing to spell out a compelling case for a unilateral attack on Iraq.