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Saudis to Fund U.S. Forces and Aid Egypt, Other Allies


JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — Secretary of State James A. Baker III and King Fahd agreed Thursday on the outlines of a multibillion-dollar Saudi payment for U.S. military operations in the Persian Gulf and to cushion the impact of the crisis on poor front-line countries such as Egypt and Turkey.

U.S. and Saudi officials announced what one Saudi diplomat called "a meeting of the minds" after about two hours of talks between Baker and the king and a subsequent hourlong meeting between Baker and Prince Saud al Faisal, the foreign minister.

A senior U.S. official said the Saudis are ready to pay substantially all of the Pentagon's "in-country" costs such as fuel, transportation, water and other expenditures needed to maintain the growing American fighting force in Saudi Arabia.

The official said Washington hopes to recover from other friendly countries all or most of the rest of the incremental cost of the deployment such as the airlift and sea lift required to carry the troops to the region. That would leave the United States footing the bill only for salaries and other items that would be the same if the troops remained at bases such as Ft. Bragg, N.C.

However, Baker said the gulf operation is expected to add $6 billion to Pentagon spending by the end of this year.

In addition, U.S. officials said the Saudis agreed to expand the aid they are already providing to Egypt, Turkey and other traditional trading partners of Iraq and Kuwait that have been hurt by the trade embargo against the regime of Iraq's President Saddam Hussein.

One official said such payments are vital to prevent the unraveling of the international determination to resist Iraqi aggression.

"You can assume that Saudi Arabia will do its fair share toward the whole process," a senior Saudi official said. "There was a meeting of the minds. I think the United States will not be dissatisfied with what Saudi Arabia is willing to do."

A senior U.S. official said that Saudi Arabia offered a general commitment to help defray the cost of the crisis three weeks ago. During the meeting with Baker, the agreement was "refined" and spelled out in greater detail. However, the official said that some additional work will be needed before the final dollar amount can be determined.

At the same time, U.S. officials said the Saudi delegation told Baker that Arab public opinion, which showed substantial sympathy for Hussein in the early days of the crisis, now seems to be swinging strongly against the Iraqi strongman.

"Our judgment coincides with that of the Saudis," one official said. "This is in part because of the large numbers of Arabs who are getting out of Iraq and Kuwait and telling their stories at home."

A ranking State Department official told reporters traveling with Baker that the Saudis have gained impressive profits "across the full range of their production" because of sharp increases in oil prices since Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.

The official, who spoke before Baker's meeting with the king, said the Saudi windfall profits--which could total as much as $60 million a day--will "certainly make it easier for them to be more forthcoming in responsibility-sharing."

Baker would not say how much he asked Fahd to contribute. But State Department officials confirmed a published report that the United States is asking the kingdom for at least $6.5 billion before the end of this year--about $2.5 billion for U.S. military activities and $4 billion to ease the burden of the crisis on needy front-line states.

Baker's late-night meeting with Fahd began promptly after the secretary of state arrived at the monarch's summer palace beside the Red Sea following a lavish dinner with the foreign minister, Prince Saud.

In the past, Fahd has often let visitors wait for hours in his anteroom, but Baker was spared that fate. The king also underlined the seriousness of the meeting by holding it around a business-like wooden conference table instead of on the informal couches he usually prefers.

Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady began a similar fund-raising trip earlier this week.

Baker meets today in the Saudi mountain resort of Taif with Kuwait's ousted emir, Sheik Jabbar al Ahmed al Sabah, and in Abu Dhabi with Sheik Zayed ibn Sultan al Nuhayan, ruler of Abu Dhabi and president of the United Arab Emirates.

Baker was clearly uncomfortable with descriptions of his trip as a fund-raising effort. He insisted that he is also trying to shore up the international effort to "maintain the political and economic isolation of Saddam Hussein."

"One of the purposes of this trip is to approach some countries on a responsibility-sharing basis," Baker said. "There are other purposes that I see as equally important."

He managed a controlled smile when accompanying reporters presented him with a tin cup engraved: "Nothing Less Than $1 Billion."

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