US Defense Secretary William Cohen started a Middle East tour in the Gulf on Thursday, and vowed that last month's bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen would not drive his country's forces out of the region.
"I think the Cole attack was a plan that has been long in the making, that it is part of an effort to try and drive the United States away from its global commitments and out of the region," he said on the plane from Washington to Bahrain.
"And that simply is not going to take place. The US is going to remain engaged globally ... We're not leaving," Cohen told reporters.
The nine-nation tour starting in Manama was to take the defense secretary on to the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Israel.
He was to hold talks on terrorism, following the October 12 bombing of the US destroyer Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden that killed 17 sailors, on the Israel-Palestinian conflict and on US efforts to keep Iraq isolated, Pentagon officials said.
Cohen's exact itinerary for the week-long tour, which comes hot on the heels of an Islamic summit in Doha at which Iraq made concrete gains in its campaign to shake off decade-old UN sanctions, was not disclosed for security reason.
In Manama, he was to meet the emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa, and visit a ship of the Bahrain-based US Fifth Fleet which patrols Gulf waters to help enforce the sanctions imposed on Iraq for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
"It will be my ninth visit to the Middle East region," Cohen said on the plane.
"We've made great progress with all of the Gulf states ... and I'm very pleased with the results that I've been able to achieve. We have pursued a policy of containment with (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein," he said.
"We have a policy of commitment to the security of the region," said Cohen.
Cohen said US policy in the region would be one of continuity after a new president takes over from Bill Clinton in January, following a transition period during which Iraq has already made headway in efforts to break its isolation.
"We certainly want to maintain continuity and will maintain continuity whatever administration follows the completion of President Clinton's tenure," he said – MANAMA (AFP)
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