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Thursday, 12 December, 2002, 07:23 GMT
US signs military pact with Qatar
Donald Rumsfeld and General Tommy Franks
Rumsfeld (left) met US General Tommy Franks
The United States and Qatar have signed a military pact that formally allows American forces to use military airbases in the Gulf state.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is currently visiting Qatar, said the pact would improve America's military readiness.

The relationship between both countries is growing.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad
Officially the agreement is not connected to events in Iraq - but it will lead to an upgrade of military bases in Qatar that the US could use in the event of an attack on Saddam Hussein's regime.

The US already has 4,000-5,000 soldiers in Qatar, and the tiny Gulf state is fast shaping up as one of Washington's most important allies in the region.

Open in new window : Military balance
Iraqi and US forces in the region

Mr Rumsfeld's visit to Qatar coincides with the staging of a massive computerised war games exercise in the state, involving both American and British personnel.

'Important partner'

Mr Rumsfeld said Qatar was an "important and valued defence partner" to Washington.

At a joint press conference with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr Al-Thani, he hailed "the wonderful co-operation between our countries in the war on terrorism".

Technicians set up lap tops for use in the exercise
The US is involved in a huge computer-based exercise in Qatar
Mr Rumsfeld, on the final leg of a tour that also took him to the Horn of Africa, said the new pact would improve life for the US troops working at Qatar's al-Udeid base, and allow technical upgrades at the facility.

Al-Udeid air base houses the largest stockpile of US arms and equipment in the Middle East.

Sheikh Hamad also welcomed the agreement, which builds on an existing defence pact signed after the 1991 Gulf War.

"The relationship between both countries is growing. This is part of a relationship that started more than a decade ago," he said.

War games

A major US-led military exercise is currently under way in Qatar, led by Gulf commander General Tommy Franks and his senior staff.

About 1,000 US and British staff began the exercise on Monday, running a state-of-the-art $58m mobile command centre through various computer-generated crises involving Iraq and other hotspots.

Again, US officials insist there is no direct link between the exercise and plans for a possible invasion of Iraq.


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09 Dec 02 | Middle East
08 Nov 02 | Africa
26 Nov 02 | Middle East
27 Aug 02 | Middle East
11 Dec 02 | Africa
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