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U.S. Deployment OKd by Kuwait, Put on Hold

September 17, 1996|ART PINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Kuwait agreed Monday to permit the United States to deploy 3,000 more ground troops on its soil, but the White House put that plan and possible U.S. air attacks against Iraq on hold so officials here can determine whether Baghdad is meeting U.S. demands.

Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that signs from Iraq on Monday were mixed but that the Iraqis still appeared to be complying with American demands to stop firing at U.S. aircraft and rebuilding air defenses shattered by U.S. missile attacks two weeks ago.

The developments suggested that the interlude in hostilities between the United States and Iraq will continue at least for a few more days. No attacks have occurred since Baghdad announced Friday that it would no longer challenge U.S. pilots flying over Iraqi territory.

Although Shalikashvili insisted that the United States was not abandoning its preparations for possible new military action against Iraq, it was clear that the administration was rethinking last week's threats.

"Whether airstrikes will be necessary or not will very much depend on [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein's actions, not his words," Shalikashvili said. "If there are actions there that threaten our pilots, we, in turn, will take appropriate action."

Senior U.S. officials also said that the administration had been reconsidering the need to send the additional ground troops, despite the green light provided by Kuwait.

The Pentagon announced late Friday that the United States was preparing to send 5,000 troops to Kuwait to provide a show of force against Iraq. But, in a gaffe, U.S. officials had not yet asked Kuwait for permission.

The Kuwaitis finally agreed Monday, after a weekend visit by Defense Secretary William J. Perry. But they gave permission for only 3,000 troops. The United States already has 1,200 troops in Kuwait participating in a temporary exercise with the Kuwaiti army. The maneuvers are designed to serve as a warning to Hussein not to attempt another attack on Kuwait. Iraq's 1990 assault on Kuwait led to the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Perry flew back to Washington late Monday after meeting with Turkish officials in the capital, Ankara, in the morning and traveling to Britain to see top British and French defense officials. U.S. and Turkish officials insisted that Perry did not ask Turkey for any additional help, such as permission to use the Turkish air base at Incirlik to launch possible strikes against Iraq.

But Turkish Foreign Minister Tansu Ciller made it clear later that, "even if there had been" such a request, it "would not be the correct move from the point of view of our own interests."

Turkey's new Muslim-run government has been cool to the recent round of U.S. missile attacks against Iraq, contending that the United States acted without justification after Baghdad last month sent forces to intervene in a civil war in a Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq.

Necmettin Erbakan, Turkey's Muslim prime minister, in effect snubbed Perry on Monday, saying that he would be unable to return to Ankara from his weekend vacation house in time to join the talks.

U.S. officials said the visit with the British and French defense ministers was routine. France was cool to the initial U.S. attack on Iraq but has been publicly more conciliatory after a visit to Paris by Secretary of State Warren Christopher on Sept. 5.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said that all of the more than 2,000 Kurds who had been working for U.S. government agencies or humanitarian aid organizations in the Kurdish part of Iraq had escaped to Turkey and were being airlifted to Guam.

The administration had hoped to win temporary shelter for the refugees in Turkey but in effect was turned down by Turkish authorities. The refugees will undergo hearings in Guam to determine whether they are eligible for political asylum in the United States.

The reluctance of traditional U.S. allies to support the administration's aggressive response to Iraq's incursions into the Kurdish enclaves has not been limited to France and Kuwait.

Saudi Arabia also has been cool to the U.S. position. On Monday, the Saudi defense minister, Prince Sultan ibn Abdulaziz, was quoted in Saudi newspapers as saying he had "not heard" of any Iraqi threat to Kuwait.

Editorial commentators in the region warned Kuwaiti leaders that by going along with the United States, they would be incurring the anger of Iraqis for years to come. Several made the point that U.S. forces eventually will leave the region but that Iraq will still be Kuwait's neighbor.

President Clinton told reporters in an Oval Office interview that the United States has "sought no confrontation with Iraq" and wants only to limit Hussein's ability to threaten his neighbors.

Clinton is to meet with congressional leaders today to discuss the situation in Iraq, but White House officials said that the session is intended only to keep lawmakers informed and is not a precursor to imminent U.S. military action.

Times staff writer John Daniszewski in Amman, Jordan, and special correspondent Hugh Pope in Ankara contributed to this report.

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