U.S. Assuring Arab States It Will Remain a Force in Mideast Post-Iraq

August 1, 2007

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BERNARD GWERTZMAN: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates are both in the Middle East. This is the first time both cabinet officers have been to the Middle East together. They’ve just had a meeting at Sharm al-Sheikh with the Egyptian leaders and the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states. This was primarily about Iraq, but clearly Iran entered into discussions. What do you think the purpose of this unprecedented trip is?

TAMARA COFMAN WITTES: There are a couple of areas of focus. One is clearly Iraq. More specifically, what’s the role of the Arab states in stabilizing Iraq, and what will the American role in the Gulf be after a withdrawal or a drawdown of American forces in Iraq. It seems to me that is a large part of what this trip is about. They’re reassuring the Arab states of the Gulf that even when the United States is largely gone from Iraq, it will still be very much present in the region.

GWERTZMAN: We’ll be present because we’re selling arms or because we’re very interested in the area?

WITTES: When the United States sells arms to the Gulf there is often a large symbolic dimension. For the Gulf states, an arms package from the United States is a way of signaling closeness to the United States as well as underscoring a broader defense relationship. Many of these systems come not just with equipment, but with American training, as well as bringing Gulf-state officers to the United States for training. It might involve joint exercises, or a prepositioning of U.S.-owned equipment in these countries. All of this is a way of cementing a broader defense relationship in which the United States is a major partner in guaranteeing the security of the Gulf. That’s really the core message here to the Arab states and Iran: The United States is going to remain the core guarantor of security and stability in the Gulf.

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Mr. Bernard Gwertzman is the Consulting Editor for