Secretary of State Colin Powell says the mission of American forces in the Persian Gulf extends far beyond acting as a deterrent to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Mr. Powell says they will remain in the region as long as host governments want them to stay.

Secretary of State Powell says U.S. troops are deployed in the region, particularly in Saudi Arabia, for a number of reasons. "We have had U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia since the end of the Gulf War," he explained, "and they serve a useful purpose there as a deterrent to Saddam Hussein. But beyond that as a symbol of American presence, influence, and a need to have U.S. forces in the region."

During an appearance on the ABC television program This Week, Colin Powell said again that no one in Saudi Arabia has asked the United States to withdraw its forces. He said in a perfect world, there would be no need for American troops in the region, but for now they have a vital role to play. "I hope the world turns into the kind of place in the future that we will all be proud of and the kind of place we have dreamed of where we would not need these kinds of deployments," the secretary said. "But as long as these deployments are needed and serve a purpose, then I think they will be welcomed by countries in the region as long as we make the case to them and they understand why our troops are there and we handle ourselves in a very responsible and appropriate manner."

The Washington Post, quoting unnamed Saudi officials, reported Friday that Saudi Arabia's leaders are growing uncomfortable with the U.S. military presence and may ask the United States to leave once the Afghan operation is complete. Secretary Powell was asked if public pressure might push them to take action. "I am not aware that the Saudi family is under such great pressure from the population for us to leave," he replied. "I think we are good guests. They know that we are there as part of a collective defense agreement that we have with them, and we have come to their aid before. And obviously, we try not to interfere with Saudi life and we try not to be a problem to any of the countries in which we have our troops."

The United States has several thousand troops in Saudi Arabia, mostly at Prince Sultan Air Base near Riyadh. In recent months, the base has played an important role in the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan.