Clarifying remarks made in mid-September that appeared to express acquiescence to US wishes, Prince Saud explained that the obligation to help uphold UN resolutions did not signify an obligation to participate militarily.

He said approval for an attack by the UN executive council would ‘oblige all signatories of the charter to help the Security Council in its mission, but there is no doubt – on no country can it impose participation in an attack.’

The comments echoed more explicit ones by Prince Sultan the previous day: ‘Saudi Arabia will not provide any assistance in any strikes against Iraq.’

Interior Minister Prince Nayef in early October made his feelings plain when he called for an international stand against military action. ‘There should be co-operation in this respect to have a unanimous international stand to prevent the attack on Iraq.’

The kingdom’s position on military action is perhaps the most important of any of Iraq’s neighbours. Saudi Arabia was the launching pad for the campaign in the 1990-91 Gulf war and is the US’ most important strategic ally in the region.