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Qatar Could Allow U.S. to Use Al-Udeid Air Base Against Iraq

Qatar's foreign minister left open the possibility that the United States could use an air base here to attack Iraq but said the decision will be made later.

About 3,300 U.S. soldiers are stationed in Qatar. The Untied States has recently upgraded the al-Udeid air base with the region's longest runway and other high-tech features. The base is currently used in operations against terrorism in Afghanistan.

Sheik Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabor Al Thani told the Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite station that his country has not received a request from the United States to use al-Udeid air base against Iraq. But he said his country may approve such a request.

"There are certain requirements in the Qatar-U.S. relations that we have to meet .... We can tell them yes and we can tell them no," he told Al Jazeera.

He did not elaborate or say whether his country's approval would be under a U.N. umbrella or for a U.S. unilateral attack.

U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks said recently he and part of his battle staff will go to al-Udeid in late November to test their ability to direct U.S. forces in simulated combat from a newly developed mobile command post.

Franks said he might stay if President Bush decided to go to war against Iraq.

The Qatari minister said the U.S. Central Command move to his country has been discussed for three years and was not a new issue. "We have explained this to all Gulf countries' leaders," he said.

Sheik Hamad said that the Americans were using the base according to a provisional agreement and that an agreement to use it on a permanent bases is being worked out.

Sheik Hamad's comments come amid rising speculations about a possible U.S. strike to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, whom Washington accuses of stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.

All Arab countries have said they won't take part in any unilateral strike. Strong U.S. allies like Egypt, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia said they would back a U.N.-led action against Baghdad.

"We will not say our final word now," Sheik Hamad said Wednesday.

Bush on Wednesday signed Congress' war-making resolution and urged world leaders to "face up to our global responsibilities" to confront Saddam.

Though he said military action would be his last resort, Bush left little room for Saddam to avoid confrontation. "Our goal is to fully and finally remove a real threat to world peace and to America," he said.