NICOSIA, CYPRUS — UNITED STATES Defense Secretary Richard Cheney arrived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Monday for talks on the Gulf crisis, a US Embassy spokesman in Riyadh said. Mr. Cheney was seeking King Fahd's permission to base US troops and air power inside Saudi Arabia to help repel any invasion and facilitate sorties against Iraq if Washington opts for a military response, ABC News reported Monday.
Cheney was also said to be aiming to persuade Saudi leaders that US President Bush was sincere in his commitment to defend Saudi Arabia.
In the past, the Saudis have feared that Washington might fail to come to their rescue if they adopted an aggressive posture toward Iraq and were attacked by Baghdad.
Cheney is leading a delegation including Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander-in-chief of the US Central Command, and Deputy National Security Advisor Robert Gate. ``He will discuss with Saudi leaders the situation in the Gulf,'' said the embassy spokesman, contacted by phone from Nicosia.
Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, is Washington's most important ally in the region and provides the US with nearly 18 percent of its oil needs.
Washington has warned Iraq's invasion Army in Kuwait against any attack on Saudi Arabia. Gulf oil sources said Monday they had seen Saudi troops moving close to the border with Iraqi-occupied Kuwait. Earlier reports by Kuwaiti officials abroad said Iraqi forces were poised on the other side of the border.
Saudi Arabia's King Fahd has given refuge to Kuwait's emir, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah, ousted by Baghdad's pre-dawn invasion last Thursday.
Mr. Bush, pushing for a international embargo on Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil, sent Cheney to the kingdom. Gulf officials and Western analysts say Washington is pressing Saudi Arabia and Turkey to shut pipelines that carry nearly 90 percent of Iraqi oil exports.
The oil sources said Saudi troop movements had been observed in the past 48 hours near the oil port of Khafji in the so-called Partitioned Neutral Zone. Oil in the zone was shared before the invasion by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
On Monday, Iraq's senior diplomat in Europe said that international sanctions against Iraq could delay Baghdad's troop pullout from Kuwait. ``Their withdrawal may well be disrupted by any threats that may arise to both Kuwait and Iraq,'' Abdul Razzak Al-Hashimi, the Iraqi ambassador in France, told reporters.
Meanwhile, Iraq prepared for possible outside attack by drilling millions for mass evacuation of Baghdad and other cities. Hussein has warned Iraq's 17 million people to be on alert for possible US or Israeli attacks.
Bush has ordered US government agencies to draw up plans for possible covert action to topple President Hussein, the Washington Post reported Monday.
Bush, who vowed Sunday to roll back Iraq's conquest of Kuwait, initiated the effort after receiving a Central Intelligence Agency evaluation that Hussein already was in a position to manipulate world oil prices, the Post said, quoting informed sources.