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SAUDI ARABIA - Jan. 15 - US May Consider Withdrawing Troops.

US Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, says he has "an uneasy feeling" that the Saudis are not doing enough to crack down on Islamic terrorists and that US forces were "not particularly wanted" there. "They act as though somehow or another they're doing us a favour. And I think the war against terrorism has got to be fought by countries who really realise that it's in everybody's interest to go after terrorism. I think we may be able to find a place where we are much more welcome openly, a place which has not seen significant resources flowing to support some really extreme, fanatic views". In a statement, Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Bandar Bin Sultan responded to the comments, saying: "Our two nations share the goal of peace and the end of terrorism. I have great respect for Senator Levin, but I am surprised by his statement". Levin did not say where the US troops might be moved. They also use airfields, ports and command posts in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the UAE. But it is widely acknowledged that the Pentagon would have a hard time replacing a high-tech air operations centre it opened last summer at Prince Sultan Air Base, near Riyadh. US commanders directed the air campaign in Afghanistan from the air base, which is also the command centre for the allied fighter jets that patrol the no-flight zone over southern Iraq. For that reason, some members of Congress say the US cannot afford to move its forces out of Saudi Arabia, particularly while tensions in the region remain high. Senator John Warner, Republican of Virginia and the ranking minority member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said: "The kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been a valued partner in the Persian Gulf region for many years, particularly during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. While we must periodically evaluate our overseas military presence, at this time, given US commitments to the world in the war on terrorism, it would not be wise to significantly lessen the US military and security relationships with the kingdom". But Levin's remarks clearly touched on a sentiment shared by many US lawmakers who have been disappointed by what they consider the Saudi government's unwillingness to speak out against militant, anti-Western Islamic mullahs. Representative Ike Skelton, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said: "They have been good friends over the years, but I'm not sure their whole heart is with us. They need to cleanse the place of potential terrorist groups". The Jan. 19 report in The IHT, quoting several Saudi sources, said Riyadh was "increasingly uncomfortable with the US military presence... and may soon ask that it end... Senior Saudi rulers believe the United States has overstayed its welcome and that other forms of less conspicuous military cooperation should be devised once the United States has completed its war in Afghanistan". But US Pres. Bush wanted to keep the US military presence, with White House spokesman Ari Fleischer saying on Jan. 18: "The president believes the current arrangements are working and working well".
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 19, 2002
Words:524
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