WASHINGTON – U.S. and Kuwaiti defense officials say they have not yet reached agreement on an American proposal to station at least 4,000 additional soldiers in the Gulf nation after the U.S. military withdraws from Iraq at year's end.
It was not clear Monday whether Kuwait was thinking of rejecting the proposal or officials were simply still working their way through negotiations.
U.S. officials said privately last week that they expected Kuwait to agree to the proposal, but Sheik Jaber Al Mubarak Al Sabah, who is also defense minister, was quoted Sunday as saying there is no plan as of now to increase U.S. troop levels in the country. The official Kuwait News Agency quoted him as saying that Kuwait will be used only as a transit point for forces, including those leaving Iraq.
Kuwaiti officials could not be reached Monday to elaborate on the comments, which were mentioned as part of a lengthy statement on a variety of issues. The Pentagon said plans are still being made.
"There have been no final decisions made or inked about force posture in that part of the world — in the Gulf region and the Middle East — post-Iraq," Navy Capt. John Kirby, a Defense Department spokesman, told reporters Monday.
"We've long said that there's likely going to be a different posture as our troops come home out of Iraq, but we're still working our way through all that right now," Kirby said.
Asked if Sheik Jaber spoke prematurely or if he was surprised by the Kuwaiti statement, Kirby didn't directly answer, but said: "Those are sovereign decisions that any state gets to make about whether there's foreign troops on their soil and, like I said, we're still working our way through what the posture in the Middle East, writ large, is going to look like after our troops come home."
A rebuff from Kuwait would be a significant blow to U.S. efforts to boost the numbers of forces in the Gulf, where the U.S. and its Arab allies fear Iran's expanding military reach. Earlier this month, U.S. officials said the Pentagon hoped to shift at least 4,000 soldiers from Iraq to Kuwait at the end of the year, pending a final decision by military planners and Kuwaiti leaders.