Pentagon officials have been holding talks with Egypt, Israel and other countries on reducing the size of the U.S. military contingent with the Sinai peacekeeping observer force.
Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith said the United States intends to sharply reduce its military observer contingent in the Sinai. It is a decision which he said has taken on added urgency because of the increased demands on U.S. forces triggered by the expansion of the war on terrorism.
Mr. Feith said talks on the Sinai reduction have been under way for a year. But he said further consultations are necessary before any final decisions are made.
"We don't have a number yet that we've decided that we want to go down (to) although we've said we'd like to make a substantial reduction if we can," Mr. Feith said.
U.S. forces make up almost half of the 1,800-strong multinational observer force in the Sinai, a force deployed two decades ago to monitor security arrangements of the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
Mr. Feith held talks at the Pentagon Thursday with senior military officials of the two countries. A joint statement on the meeting said Egypt and Israel understand what were termed "the competing requirements faced by United States forces around the world, especially in light of the war on terror."
The same statement said the United States would remain committed to peace between Egypt and Israel and to supporting the multinational observer force in the Sinai.
Mr. Feith said the force is no longer keeping the peace in the traditional military sense of separating combatants. Instead, he describes the force as more of a political, confidence-building presence.
Ten other countries contribute forces to the Sinai mission. Mr. Feith said the United States is sounding them out about dispatching additional troops to make up the shortfall caused by any American pull-out. He gives no details.