Mullen Launches Middle East Trip in Saudi Arabia

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)

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