RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – War is unlikely to break Iraq into smaller states because Baghdad and Washington agree that a single Iraqi nation must be preserved, Saudi Arabia's deputy defense minister said Wednesday.
Still, Saudi Arabia and all countries in the region are planning for their nations' security if a war against Iraq cannot be avoided and destabilizes the region, Prince Khaled bin Sultan said in an interview with The Associated Press. He did not elaborate on the preparations.
"If there's one thing that everybody agrees on, including the United States and Iraq, it is we believe Iraq must be united and should not be shattered," Prince Khaled said.
Deep divides were apparent at an Iraqi opposition meeting earlier this month in London. The conference was convened to show unity and select a council to represent ethnic, religious and nationalist groups seeking a say in any post-Saddam Hussein government.
The United States considers Iraq to be in "material breach" of a recent U.N. resolution's requirement to disclose complete information about its weapons programs -- a declaration widely seen as a step toward a war aimed at ousting Saddam.
The Bush administration also announced it plans to nearly double its troop strength in the Gulf, adding 50,000 people, and reports out of Washington say the buildup also would send refueling and support aircraft to bases in Saudi Arabia.
The 4,000 U.S. military personnel stationed at Prince Sultan Air Base outside Riyadh have been a sore spot with some Saudis. But Prince Khaled said it remains in the kingdom's interest to host U.S. troops.
"We've been very close to the United States for the past 60 years and nothing can prove that (more) than the good work we did during the Gulf war," he said.
Senior Saudi officials have made clear their top priority is trying to avert a war that looks increasingly unstoppable. On Tuesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud said even if the U.N. Security Council approves military action, Arab nations should get a final chance to avoid a war.
Prince Khaled told the AP it is too early to say whether Saudi Arabia would be willing to participate in a multinational peacekeeping or security mission after a war.
Prince Khaled said Saudi Arabia shares the U.S. determination to fight terrorism. He would not, however, discuss the Saudi military's role in that fight, other than to say it supports the Saudi security forces who work under the Interior Ministry in whatever way is necessary.
Prince Khaled said he is confident the war on terrorism can be won. That, he said, requires not allowing Osama bin Laden to drive a wedge between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
His views differ sharply from critics within the U.S. government who believe Saudi Arabia has supported terrorists at worst and, at best, not done enough to stamp out extremism.
He also said "eighty percent" of the problem would be solved if Israel and the Palestinians sign a peace deal.