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Rumsfeld: US Forces Leaving Saudi Arabia - 2003-04-29

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld confirms that U.S. forces are leaving Saudi Arabia. Mr. Rumsfeld met with Saudi officials in Riyadh Tuesday.

In a joint news conference with Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz, Mr. Rumsfeld said the United States is grateful for the cooperation Saudi Arabia has provided.

The key command center for U.S. air operations in the Gulf region was transferred from Saudi Arabia to Qatar on Monday.

As many as 10,000 U.S. troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia during the war with Iraq. The kingdom was also a staging area for U.S. attacks against Iraq during the Gulf war in 1991 and for enforcing the no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq.

However, Saudi Arabia refused to allow about 100 U.S. aircraft in the kingdom to be used for direct attacks against Iraq during the latest conflict, mostly because of public opposition to the war among Saudi citizens.

The spokesman for the 22-member Arab League, Hisham Yousef, told VOA the Arab world applauds the decision to remove U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia. Mr. Yousef said the issue of foreign troops on Arab soil is sensitive. "Foreign presence is usually associated with things that are not necessarily positive. That is the case even between allies," he said. "People are not that comfortable with foreign forces, regardless of how close the relationship is. So, as a matter of principle, the presence of foreign forces is not something that is usually celebrated." U.S. officials have said future American military relations with Saudi Arabia would be in the form of training and military exercises.

Mr. Rumsfeld is on a tour of the region to discuss the reorganization of U.S. forces in the area.

He told reporters Tuesday that the United States was not threatening Syria following the war in Iraq, but he reiterated his allegation that Syria had sent fighters or weapons into Iraq to kill coalition forces.

Syria has since closed its border with Iraq and is requiring visas for Iraqis to enter the country.

Following Saudi Arabia, Mr. Rumsfeld is expected to visit Kuwait and Afghanistan. Officials will not say whether the defense secretary plans to travel to Iraq.