RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Feb. 20, 2011 — Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived here today for the first leg of a sweep through the Middle East to reassure friends of the U.S. commitment to regional stability, acknowledging he’s been “stunned” by the pace of the upheaval here.
“The speed with which this has happened has really taken me aback,” Mullen said of unrest that has moved through the region, domino-like, in recent weeks. “And I think this speed is going to continue.”
Mullen left Washington yesterday to confer with international and U.S. officials during stops in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Djibouti and Kuwait. Although the trip has been in the planning stages for some time, he said, its nature has changed dramatically based on the current tumult.
Talks are expected to address uprisings that have toppled the presidents of both Tunisia and Egypt and continue to ripple through the region. As during his trip last week to Israel and Jordan, Mullen said, he plans to “reassure our friends and just listen to what’s on their minds” about the situation and to get their views firsthand, particularly concerning Egypt.
Mullen said he comes to the region bringing no message to any particular group, but rather to reiterate the U.S. interest in seeing differences resolved peacefully. “We would certainly like to see what happens happen in a nonviolent way,” he told reporters traveling with him.
Emphasizing the importance of the Gulf region, the chairman said its stability is in everyone’s best interest.
Mullen has office calls scheduled here with Prince Mohammed bin Niyif, Saudi Arabia’s assistant interior minister for security affairs; Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, commander of the Saudi Arabian 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 will meet with U.S. Ambassador James Smith.
The United States and Saudi Arabia have had strong military-to-military relations since World War II. U.S. advisors continue to help in training the Saudi military and national guard. The U.S. military training mission to Saudi Arabia and a U.S. program managers’ office for the Saudi Arabian national guard work to help in increasing Saudi military capabilities.
Saudi Arabia is one of the largest customers for U.S. defense goods.
The trip is expected to wrap up next weekend in Kuwait City, where a month-long commemoration is observing the 50th anniversary of Kuwait’s liberation and the 20th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm. Coalition forces liberated Kuwait from Iraqi occupation forces on Feb. 26, 1991, at the end of Operation Desert Storm. Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait Aug. 2, 1990.
The chairman’s last extended visit to the region was in February 2010, when he made stops in Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)