NEW YORK – The Saudi foreign minister said Tuesday that Saddam Hussein should make a sacrifice for his country and step down if it would end the war. The remark provoked a sharp rebuke from Iraq.
"If the only thing remaining to resolve the situation in Iraq is a sacrifice from President Saddam Hussein and since he's asking all Iraqis to sacrifice their lives for their country, then the least that can be expected is that he would do the same and sacrifice for his country," Prince Saud told reporters.
At a news conference in Baghdad, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan responded with a rebuke directed at the Saudi foreign minister: "Go to hell."
"You are too much of a nothing to say a word addressed to a leader of Iraq," Ramadan added.
Saud said he was not calling on or urging Saddam to step down. But asked whether it was too late for such a move from the Iraqi leader, who has pledged never to resign, said: "Why should it be too late?"
Saud's remarks appeared to be a signal to Saddam that the option of going into exile is still open.
In a joint interview with the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat daily newspaper and Lebanon's al-Mustaqbal satellite television before the war started, Saud was quoted as saying the Iraqi crisis could have been resolved had Saddam accepted a proposal by the United Arab Emirates for him to quit and go into exile. The prince's remarks then were the closest Saudi Arabia had come to endorsing the idea.
Saud said a U.S. "military occupation" of Iraq would not resolve the Iraq conflict, and he called for a cease-fire to allow diplomacy to work.
"Conflict is not really the best way to resolve disputes," Saud said. "Let us stop it now before hatred grips our hearts and our souls."
He said one of the reasons his kingdom is against the war "is because wars tend to spread and especially wars in areas that have chronic problems like the Middle East."
"We are afraid of the spread of war," Saud said.
Saud also lashed out at unidentified American "prognosticators and advisers who have covered the wavelengths of all media stations" for giving the impression that Washington intends to change the geopolitical map in the region, feeding Arab fears that Iraq is the first U.S. step toward controlling the area.
Saud, a graduate of Princeton University, said it is "not within the character of the United States, at least not the United States that I know," to do that.
"This is creating great confusion that exists in the Arab world about the motives of the United States," Saud added. "I think and this country thinks, as a friend of the United States, that this image must change and the true nature of the American people should emerge from this fog that was created by these few individuals."
Saudi Arabia, fearful of an internal, Muslim extremist backlash, has been quiet about its support for the U.S. military strikes on Iraq. In the 1991 Gulf War, the use of Saudi territory by U.S. troops as a launch pad against Iraq produced a cause for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden to rally militants.