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Cohen Briefs Gulf States on Military Option

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, Feb. 10, 1998 – The United States would still like to see diplomacy end the crisis with Iraq, But the United States is ready and able to strike if military action is necessary.

"We are seeking a diplomatic solution if it can be found," Defense Secretary William Cohen said here Feb. 8. "If compliance cannot be achieved diplomatically, then that may be the option that has to be exercised."

At the start of a three-day swing through six gulf states, Cohen talked with reporters about upcoming meetings with Saudi King Fahd and Defense Minister Prince Sultan. The secretary said he planned to present a strategic analysis of the situation and discuss the nature of the threat Saddam Hussein poses to the region. "I'm going to give them a general overview of U.S. plans if an attack on Iraq becomes necessary," he said.

Earlier in the day, Saudi Arabian officials said they preferred a diplomatic solution over military action. Cohen told reporters this should not be seen as a lack of support for the U.S. position. "They want a diplomatic solution and so do we," he said. "They recognize not only the threat to themselves, but the instability of the entire region."

Cohen said Saudi Arabia hosts U.S. and allied support aircraft such as refueling tankers and AWACs stationed here, Cohen said, and he anticipates they will continue to do so. "They are being very helpful," he said.

Saudi Arabia has not turned down any requests for assistance, Cohen said. The United States is not seeking Saudi Arabia's permission to launch strikes against Iraq from Saudi bases, he said, adding, "We don't think it's necessary."

U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, commander, U.S. Central Command, has "made a determination that he can carry out anything he has to carry out with the forces that are now there, or will be there, in the future," Cohen said. "Gen. Zinni has taken into account where his strikes should be launched from and put that into his plan."

The United States has assembled a robust armada in the gulf, with more than 24,400 U.S. troops, 25 ships and 325 aircraft. The USS Independence and the USS George Washington carrier battle groups are there along with the British carrier HMS Invincible, with about 2,500 troops and six Royal Air Force GR1 Tornado aircraft.

The USS Guam Amphibious Readiness Group, with another 2,200 U.S. Marines, was on its way from the Mediterranean to the Gulf and is expected on station in mid-February. At Zinni's request, Cohen also deployed another 42 aircraft, including six F-117 stealth fighter-bombers, six B-52s, one B-1B and six F-16 fighters. The other 23 were support aircraft. British officials sent another eight Tornados to the region.

Unlike during the Gulf War, when allied fighters launched primarily from bases in Saudi Arabia, U.S. forces are no longer dependent on any one gulf state to protect U.S. interests in the region, a senior DoD official explained.

"One thing that happened since 1991 is that we've dramatically diversified in the region," he said. With aircraft and warships positioned offshore and ground combat equipment pre-positioned in several countries, the United States has a lot of options, he said. "One of them is we don't have to rely on a single country to protect our interests. We're in a much different situation than in 1990."

Cohen arrived in Jeddah following a stop in Germany to attend an international security conference. There, he told European government officials, journalists and industrialists the time for diplomacy was running out. He called for world allies to rally to enforce Iraqi compliance with U.N. resolutions. Failure to do so, Cohen said, undermines U.N. credibility.

If President Clinton decides diplomacy has failed, U.S. plans call for "substantial military action," Cohen said. "And I think people throughout the gulf would be impressed with our plan.

Germany and Canada announced during the conference their support for efforts to end the standoff. "A number of allies indicated they are supportive of what the United States and Great Britain and others are seeking to achieve," Cohen said. "Several will be offering support, some in the form of materiel and other types of assets. There is a momentum that is building among the allies to lend moral or material support."

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