United States Warns Mideast Violence Could Spread

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United States Warns Mideast Violence Could Spread By Tabassum Zakaria Nov 18 10:35am ET

DOHA, Qatar (Reuters) - Defense Secretary William Cohen warned Saturday that the cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians could spread to other countries in the region.

``If it gets out of control, it will not be confined to Israel... it can spread, in fact, to all of the countries in the region,'' Cohen, who is on a tour of the Middle East, told U.S. troops at a base in Qatar.

He said that was why it was important ``to try and bring some level of calm between Palestinians and Israelis at this point'' and ``to also reinforce relationships we have with all of our Gulf allies and friends.''

U.S. military forces in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar were at the highest level of alert since the October 12 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in which 17 U.S. sailors died.

There are 67 U.S. military personnel at the Qatari base. The United States has over 100 tanks and over 100 fighting vehicles at the base.

``We are hoping over a period of time that that threat level will diminish,'' Cohen said.

``But the problem right now is that there is great violence taking place in the Middle East. We are trying our best to encourage the Israelis and the Palestinians to try to break the cycle of violence,'' he said.

He said that despite the events between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the relationship between the United States and each of the Gulf states was ``as strong as it's ever been.''

Cohen is on a nine-stop tour of the Middle East that also includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Bahrain.


The role of the United States in the Middle East peace process was one of the issues discussed in meetings earlier on Saturday between Cohen and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Khalifa bin Zaid and other officials in the United Arab Emirates.

``They (UAE) have called upon us to be fair,'' a U.S. official with Cohen said on condition of anonymity before the talks began.

``They've said: Can you at least be fair, when you criticize (Palestinian President Yasser) Arafat for something, can you also at the same time criticize someone on the other side?''

Arab countries have complained that the United States is unfairly biased toward Israel in its comments on the seven-week-old clashes between Israelis and Palestinians.

The official UAE news agency WAM said Sheikh Khalifa ''called on the United States, as the main broker of the Middle East peace process, to step up efforts to stop the violence by Israeli forces against the helpless Palestinians and to return to the negotiating table.''

``Sheikh Khalifa stressed that circumstances in the region could not be stabilized without a complete Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab lands and the realization of a comprehensive and just peace in the region,'' WAM said.

Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon told reporters after Cohen's arrival in the Qatari capital Doha that as well as discussing the Middle East crisis and U.S. elections, UAE officials had asked Cohen about restarting UAE port visits by the U.S. navy.

Visits were stopped in the aftermath of the bombing of the Cole. The stoppage is particularly costly for Dubai emirate, where members of the U.S. navy spend something like $50 million a year.

``We don't believe it's permanent,'' Bacon said. ``It's an economic benefit for them. It's a morale benefit for us.''

There are about 300 U.S. troops stationed in the United Arab Emirates, mainly a tanker squadron which refuels U.S. planes that fly patrols over southern Iraq.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), November 18, 2000

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