US Defense Secretary William Cohen on Sunday rejected a Russian proposal for Kuwait to halt its support for the "no-fly" zones imposed on Iraq, as part of efforts to reconcile the two neighbors.
"I raised the issue (with Kuwaiti authorities) in terms of a Russian proposal to apparently encourage Kuwait to no longer support the enforcement of the no-fly zones," Cohen said at the end of a brief visit to Kuwait.
"The reason for the no-fly zones is ... to prevent (Iraqi leader) Saddam (Hussein) from posing a threat to Kuwait or to its neighbors. We intend to continue to enforce them," Cohen told reporters.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov wound up a two-day visit to Kuwait earlier the same day by calling for a new security system in the area in which Iraq would also play a role.
Ivanov, who held talks in Kuwait on "confidence-building measures" between the emirate and its former occupier, said Iraq must be allowed to return to the international fold to help ensure security.
But Cohen, on the fifth leg of a Middle East tour started in the Gulf, said he expected Russia and Kuwait to continue to support the exclusion zones which US and British warplane enforce on northern and southern Iraq.
"The Russians have signed on the (UN) Security Council resolutions, and we would anticipate they would continue to support them," he said, although the no-fly zones are not specifically covered by any resolution.
"This is a decision for the Kuwaiti government to make, but we believe that the enforcement of the no-fly zones has been responsible for protecting the security of Kuwait itself, and would anticipate they would continue," he said.
The defense secretary said the best confidence-building measure was for Iraq to comply with Security Council resolutions linked to the lifting of sanctions in force since it invaded Kuwait in August 1990.
"It's very clear what Iraq has to do ... simply open up its stores and allow all UN inspectors before it is welcomed back into the international community," he said, referring to Iraq's rejection of resolution 1284.
The resolution offers Iraq a suspension of sanctions in return for its cooperation with a new UN arms inspection regime.
Cohen -- who has been using Oman as the overnight base for his Gulf swing, which has been held under strict security -- was received by the emir, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, and the rest of the Kuwaiti leadership.
Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon, travelling with Cohen, said they discussed several issues including plans for Kuwait to buy 16 Apache helicopters from the United States worth around 640 million dollars.
Cohen assured the emirate's leadership of the continuity of US policy following the presidential elections. They also discussed a command and control system, a proposed deal worth 1.2 billion dollars.
"Security relations between Kuwait and the US have never been stronger," Cohen said.
"As long as our partners believe the US forces are needed to defend the region, we will stay. Terrorists will not be able to drive us out," he said, in reference to the October 12 bombing of the USS Cole in the Yemeni port city of Aden.
Cohen said he was briefed on the arrest of six alleged terrorists in Kuwait, adding that as investigations were still ongoing, it was "too early to reach any judgements yet."
There is no evidence so far to link the suspects in Kuwait to the attack on the guided-missile destroyer Cole that killed 17 sailors, he said.
Kuwaiti authorities are interrogating six Kuwaitis on suspicion of being members of a terror group plotting to carry out suicide bombings on US targets in the region.
A seventh suspect was released and the Moroccan ringleader is at large.
Cohen later arrived in Saudi Arabia and was to return to Oman for a meeting with Sultan Qaboos on Monday before travelling on to Egypt, Jordan and Israel – KUWAITCITY (AFP)
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