The Pentagon has summoned Israeli and Egyptian officials for a trilateral meeting Thursday to review how it intends to reconfigure the American peacekeeping force in the Sinai desert, US and Israeli sources said, according to Israel’s The Jerusalem Post daily. The Israeli delegation is expected be headed by Defense Ministry Director-General.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has for over a year made clear that he wants to see the American mission in the Sinai end in order to free up badly needed troops for other US-led military missions, the newspaper mentioned. Egypt and Israel both oppose any change in the status quo. The State Department has also cautioned that tough times in the Middle East make this an inauspicious time to leave the area.
Nevertheless, US sources said Rumsfeld is still determined to remove the vast majority of the 900 American peacekeepers and leaving behind a symbolic headquarters. "He wants to kill it entirely, but will settle for a massive reduction," one US official said, according to the Israeli daily.
Earlier this year, Rumsfeld said: "I do not believe that we still need our forces in the Sinai." Rumsfeld added he would push forward with plans to withdraw the 860 U.S. soldiers. "I don't think that the United States has to have forces in every country of the world and I don't think we have to have them in the same place for 20 years at a time," he said.
The American troops in the Sinai make up the bulk of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), an independent international peacekeeping and verification organization established by Egypt and Israel to monitor the security arrangements after their 1979 peace treaty.
The cost of the MFO is evenly shared by Israel, Egypt, and the US, each contributing $15 million per year, as well as smaller donations by Germany, Japan, and Switzerland. The MFO staffs 13 checkpoints and 17 observation points in Sinai along the Egypt-Israel border. (Albawaba.com)
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