US Defense Secretary William Cohen departs Wednesday on a trip to the Gulf and Middle East amid heightened concerns about security in the wake of last month's bombing of a US destroyer in Yemen and other terrorist threats, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.
Cohen will visit Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, Jordan, Egypt and Israel, a senior US defense official said.
Cohen delayed his departure by a day and details of his itinerary were kept secret amid concerns about security in the region where terrorist threats prompted US forces in four of those countries to go on their highest level of security alert.
"Security is always an issue when we go to the region, and we are very comfortable that the appropriate security attention and measures have been taken to ensure as always that we have good security as we go out in the region," the official said.
Terrorism, including the October 12 suicide attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 US sailors in Yemen, will be discussed "in general terms" in Cohen's talks with leaders in the countries he is visiting, the official said.
"Security broadly in the region is something that will certainly come up," the official said.
His visit follows the arrest in Kuwait of seven people suspected of plotting to bomb US military targets.
Other issues on Cohen's agenda will include the Middle East peace process, efforts to contain Iraq, and relations with Iran, the official said – WASHINGTON (AFP)
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