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Chairman of Joint Chiefs Visits Emirates in Bid to Gird Coalition

Myers joins stream of administration officials traveling to countries that may feel pressure to reduce their support for the Iraq war effort.

August 10, 2004|John Hendren | Times Staff Writer

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, began a tour of the Middle East on Monday as part of the Bush administration's effort to build its coalition against terrorism.

The Air Force general, the top U.S. military officer, paid his respects to the United Arab Emirates, the oil-rich federation of seven sheikdoms that has been among the staunchest U.S. allies in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The stopover occurred at an important time for the U.S.-led alliance in the Iraq war, as the United States seeks to lower its visibility while raising the profile of Iraqis. Insurgents have driven some allies -- notably the Philippines and Spain -- out of Iraq through acts of terrorism, including kidnappings and beheadings in Iraq and deadly train bombings in Madrid.

Senior Bush administration officials have recently traveled to strengthen ties with countries that may be vulnerable to pressure.

"I think that there's two different motivations for the sudden overseas presence of so many officials," said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute, a public policy group in Arlington, Va. "First of all, the Bush administration has belatedly learned the lesson of good public relations. In its final year in office, it's finally begun to realize that a lot of people don't like us," he said.

"The second reason is that it detects wavering by a number of smaller members of the coalition, who, frankly, are scared of the insurgents and what they might do. And it's also an effort to buck up the troops in the coalition. I think there's a feeling that a certain domino effect is in danger of setting in once the Filipinos announced that they were leaving."

Though a few allies have pulled back, the administration has seen no similar withdrawal of support from Muslim nations around the Persian Gulf, such as the United Arab Emirates. Some Arab leaders have quietly urged stronger tactics by the U.S.-led coalition, a senior defense official said on condition of anonymity.

Seeking to strengthen those ties, Myers held a warm, hourlong meeting with Mohamed ibn Zayed al Nuhayyan, who, as chief of staff of the Emirates' armed forces, has served as his counterpart for four years.

Myers was scheduled to meet today with the Emirates president and ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheik Zayed ibn Sultan al Nuhayyan.

About 3,500 U.S. troops are stationed in the Emirates, whose port of Dubai is the only one in the Persian Gulf large enough to host port calls by the aircraft carriers of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, based in nearby Bahrain.

Myers' visit took place near the Strait of Hormuz, where a recently arrested British terrorist suspect, 30-year-old computer specialist Babar Ahmad, had plotted an attack on a U.S. aircraft carrier fleet in 2001, U.S. and British prosecutors said last week.

U.S. prosecutors are seeking to extradite Ahmad after British police found a floppy disk at his parents' London home that contained a document discussing the U.S. aircraft carrier Constellation and its battle group.

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