Mullen Continues Middle East Trip in Qatar

DOHA, Qatar, Feb. 21, 2011 — The top U.S. mil­i­tary offi­cer arrived here in the Qatari cap­i­tal today, con­tin­u­ing his week­long trip through the Mid­dle East after con­clud­ing what he called frank, reas­sur­ing talks with lead­ers in Sau­di Ara­bia about wide­spread region­al unrest.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters con­cern about vio­lence sur­round­ing many of the pro-demo­c­ra­t­ic move­ments that have rip­pled through the region – and how Iran might exert its pow­er in the process – dom­i­nat­ed his talks today with Sau­di polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary lead­ers.

The chair­man empha­sized that he does not believe Iran played a role in top­pling the regimes of Tunisian Pres­i­dent Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt­ian Pres­i­dent Hos­ni Mubarak or in stir­ring up oth­er protest move­ments. “These are, by and large, inter­nal issues, as opposed to issues foment­ed by some exter­nal force,” he said.

But nonethe­less, Mullen said, the Unit­ed States and its allies in the region are wary that Iran might use the upheaval as a chance to exert influ­ence. He called Iran “a coun­try that con­tin­ues to foment insta­bil­i­ty in the region and take advan­tage of every oppor­tu­ni­ty.”

“There are always con­cerns in this region with Iran. Cer­tain­ly the Unit­ed States has them, as well as all the region­al play­ers,” he told reporters after con­clud­ing today’s meet­ings in Riyadh. “Cer­tain­ly that was part of the dis­cus­sion today with the Saud­is.”

In the Sau­di cap­i­tal of Riyadh, the chair­man met with Prince Mohammed bin Niyif, assis­tant inte­ri­or min­is­ter for secu­ri­ty affairs; Prince Miteb bin Abdul­lah, com­man­der of Sau­di Arabia’s nation­al guard; Prince Khalid bin Sul­tan bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, assis­tant defense and avi­a­tion min­is­ter for mil­i­tary affairs; and Lt. Gen. Qubail, deputy chief of the gen­er­al staff. He also met with U.S. Ambas­sador to Sau­di Ara­bia James Smith and his staff.

Mullen said his talks focused large­ly on the tumult in Bahrain, where a vio­lent week­end left many anti-gov­ern­ment pro­tes­tors dead. “Obvi­ous­ly the Saud­is, in par­tic­u­lar — but every­body in the region — is watch­ing what’s hap­pen­ing in Bahrain very close­ly,” he said.

The Sau­di gov­ern­ment, con­cerned that what­ev­er hap­pens there could spill over to Sau­di Arabia’s east­ern province, has expressed sup­port for Bahrain’s rul­ing Khal­i­fa fam­i­ly and sent a warn­ing to Iran.

“The king­dom of Sau­di Ara­bia stands with all its capa­bil­i­ties behind the state and the broth­er­ly peo­ple of Bahrain,” the gov­ern­ment-run Sau­di Press Agency announced in a state­ment. Sau­di Ara­bia expressed “absolute rejec­tion” of for­eign tam­per­ing in Bahrain’s affairs.

Mullen cred­it­ed Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa’s deci­sion not to use force against the pro­tes­tors and to begin a nation­al dia­logue to address their issues with bring­ing about an appar­ent reduc­tion in vio­lence iover the last 36 hours in Bahrain. “He has tak­en some sig­nif­i­cant, pos­i­tive steps from a lead­er­ship stand­point … to resolve the griev­ances and the con­cerns,” the chair­man said.

The chair­man arrived here today for the sec­ond leg of a trip that also includes stops in Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates, Dji­bouti and Kuwait, and pos­si­bly Bahrain.

Tonight in Doha, Mullen will be the guest of hon­or at a din­ner host­ed by Maj. Gen. Hamad bin Ali al-Attiyah, the Qatari armed forces’ chief of staff. He has meet­ings slat­ed tomor­row with Sheikh bin Hamad al Thani, rul­ing emir of Qatar since 1995.

From there, Mullen is slat­ed to trav­el to Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates, where he will meet with lead­ers and attend the Inter­na­tion­al Defense Expo­si­tion and Con­fer­ence in Abu Dhabi. Lat­er this week, he will vis­it Dji­bouti on the Horn of Africa, then will con­clude his trip in Kuwait with cer­e­monies mark­ing the 20th anniver­sary of its lib­er­a­tion dur­ing Oper­a­tion Desert Storm.

Although the vis­it had been long-sched­uled, Mullen told reporters trav­el­ing with him, its con­text changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly in light cur­rent events. He dis­missed the notion that his trip shows the Unit­ed States is tak­ing sides in region­al con­flicts, empha­siz­ing the impor­tance of peace­ful res­o­lu­tion to the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in the strate­gi­cal­ly impor­tant Gulf region.

“We have a long­stand­ing rela­tion­ship with the lead­ers in these coun­tries,” he said, not­ing his own close ties with their mil­i­tary lead­ers. “That doesn’t mean we don’t all share con­cern about what has hap­pened and look to the future,” he said. “It is real­ly impor­tant that we reaf­firm the rela­tion­ship” and eval­u­ate “what has occurred and how we are going to look to the future togeth­er.”

The chair­man said he would press through­out his trip for all sides in these sit­u­a­tions to show restraint as they work through their dif­fer­ences.

“We cer­tain­ly would like to see what­ev­er hap­pens hap­pen in a non­vi­o­lent way — that where there are dif­fer­ences, they be resolved non­vi­o­lent­ly, and that gov­ern­ments and their peo­ple fig­ure this out,” he said.

Mean­while, in response to a reporter’s ques­tion, Mullen expressed no par­tic­u­lar con­cern about Egypt’s deci­sion to allow Iran­ian war­ships to pass through the Suez Canal. Not­ing that he has tran­sit­ed the canal him­self more than once, the chair­man said it’s an issue for Egypt, which con­trols the canal, to address.

“It is real­ly for the gov­ern­ment of Egypt and the gov­ern­ment of Iran to work that out,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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