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Carlucci Bars Cutback in Gulf Commitment

January 12, 1988|STANLEY MEISLER | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — Secretary of Defense Frank C. Carlucci, after a fact-finding tour of the Persian Gulf, insisted Monday that the United States will not reduce its commitment in the gulf region, but he acknowledged that the size of the U.S. naval presence there is under constant review.

In a news conference in Paris, Carlucci replied to all questions about a possible reduction in the number of U.S. ships in the gulf by saying only that the United States will not reduce its capability or commitment or interest there.

"We intend to keep the capability in the gulf to do the job," he said. "We don't want any more ships in the gulf than are necessary to do the job. We don't want any fewer ships in the gulf than are necessary to do the job. . . .

"For both political purposes and budgetary purposes, we want to have the minimal forces necessary to do the job. But it would be unconscionable for us, for me as secretary of defense, to put forces in there that are inadequate to do the job."

Talks With French Leaders

Carlucci, who had been reported ready to recommend to President Reagan that the naval force in the gulf be reduced, stopped in Paris for a day of conferences with French leaders after a week touring Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and visiting some of the more than 30 U.S. ships deployed in the area to protect American-flagged shipping from Iranian attack.

He denied that he had told Kuwaiti officials that the U.S. naval presence might be reduced.

"That is an inaccurate statement," he said. "I did not disclose that I was discussing a possible cutback in U.S. forces in the gulf. What I said was that the question of the proper mix of ships in the gulf is . . . always under continuing review. Ships rotate, crews get tired--those are perfectly normal actions and I would not rule them out. What I would rule out is any lessening of our commitment to our strategic interests in the gulf."

Danger of Mines Reduced

Carlucci also mentioned the shifting numbers of allied ships as a factor in the review and later, without specifically including it as a factor, emphasized that the naval forces have considerably reduced the danger of mines to shipping.

The U.S. naval operation in the Persian Gulf is estimated to cost between $20 million and $30 million a month, and some analysts believe that a reduction in the number of ships would be in line with the cost-cutting drive started by Carlucci when he succeeded Caspar W. Weinberger at the Pentagon two months ago.

During his stay in Paris, Carlucci met separately with President Francois Mitterrand, Premier Jacques Chirac, Foreign Minister Jean-Bernard Raimond and Defense Minister Andre Giraud.

After the meeting between Carlucci and Raimond, the French foreign minister told the news media that "for the moment, the situation being what it is, there is no reduction planned either of the American or of the French presence" in the gulf. France keeps 15 ships in the region.

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