Saudi officials, reverting to pre-war policies, are indicating they do not want foreign troops, even fellow Arabs, stationed in the kingdom.
The Saudi view, coupled with Egypt's decision last week to withdraw its 36,000 troops from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, has cast doubt over the much-vaunted new regional security arrangements for the Persian Gulf.The gulf nations and their Western allies had foreseen a new regional security system anchored by 60,000 Egyptian and Syrian troops, with American troops rapidly available to reinforce them in an emergency.
The plan was formalized March 6 in Damascus between the six Gulf Cooperation Council states - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman - with Egypt and Syria, their main Arab allies in the anti-Iraq coalition.
The so-called Damascus Declaration envisaged a partnership between oil-poor, manpower-rich Egypt and Syria on the one hand and their rich, sparsely populated gulf cousins on the other.
But Saudi officials and diplomats in Riyadh, interviewed in recent days and speaking on condition of anonymity, said there is now no question of stationing even Arab troops in the kingdom, let alone Western ones.
One Western diplomat said the prevalent attitude is: "You've done a great job. Now, we don't need you any more. Please don't linger in our territory."
Several officials expressed puzzlement over King Fahd's change in policy on Egyptian and Syrian troops, saying the plan was workable and would help cement the Arab world.
The alliance with Egypt and Syria was to be cemented with a $10 billion to $15 billion economic aid fund for them. But sources said less than that was offered, with the Saudis and their partners facing major economic problems following the war.
Egyptian military sources said President Hosni Mubarak's abrupt May 8 announcement of an Egyptian withdrawal was based on evidence that his troops were distinctly unwelcome, especially in Kuwait.
Syria has not said what it will do. But given the Saudi attitude, it will likely pull out too.
For their part, the Kuwaitis have pleaded for a continuing U.S. ground presence in their country, a policy radically at odds with Saudi Arabia's.