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Cohen to Visit Middle East

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 2, 1999 – Defense Secretary William S. Cohen is scheduled to depart March 4 for a nine-day trip to nine Middle Eastern nations, Pentagon officials announced March 2.

Cohen will consult with counterparts and senior government officials in Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. He intends to discuss long-term regional security, a senior defense official said. The United States also wants to ensure partners in the Gulf remain secure from external threats, particularly the growing threat of weapons of mass destruction, he said.

The situation with Iraq also will be discussed, the official said. "We will continue to discuss overall strategies and how to deal with Saddam Hussein," he said. "We want to get their views on how to deal with this threat to the region."

Since the end of Operation Desert Fox in late December, Iraqi forces have repeatedly violated the no-fly zones and challenged patrolling coalition aircraft. On nearly a daily basis, U.S. and British fighters have responded, launching attacks on Iraqi air defenses, command and control and communications centers .

Cohen plans to assure the Gulf nations who support Operation Southern Watch that the United States intends to continue enforcing the no-fly zone and will take action as necessary to protect coalition pilots, the official said. "The Gulf countries are quite comfortable with what we're doing," he added.

Along with talking about bipartisan relationships with Israel, Jordan and Egypt, Cohen will emphasize the importance of furthering the Middle East peace process.

The secretary is scheduled to return to Washington March 12.

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