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Qatar's FM  to Hold Talks on Military Cooperation at the Pentagon - 2002-09-12

A top Qatari official is expected at the Pentagon Friday for talks with senior U.S. defense officials. Qatar could be a strategic ally in any possible U.S. military action against Iraq.

Pentagon officials say the visit by Qatar's foreign minister is likely to focus on past, present and future military cooperation.

The officials give no details. But word of the planned talks comes just one day the Pentagon disclosed that key staff members of the U.S. military's Central Command will move from their headquarters in the southern state of Florida to Qatar to test a new command and control center.

Officials say the move is part of a regular exercise. But the U.S. personnel involved in the transfer could become the core of a battle staff that could run a war against Iraq.

General Tommy Franks, commander of the Central Command, is likely to visit Qatar in connection with the move. He was in Washington earlier this week for high level talks that reportedly centered on Iraq.

The new U.S. command center in Qatar is located at al-Udeid air base, which features the longest runway in the region. U.S. officials have been transferring munitions, equipment and communications gear there, some of it from Saudi Arabia, the control center for American operations against Iraq during the 1991 Gulf war.

Several thousand U.S. military personnel are now in Qatar along with a large complement of aircraft, including fighters, reconnaissance planes and tankers.