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Last Updated: Monday, 21 April, 2003, 21:53 GMT 22:53 UK
US denies Iraq bases plan
US soldiers in control tower at Baghdad international airport
Four sites for bases were named - including Baghdad airport
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has denied that the US is planning long-term military involvement in Iraq, including bases.

His comments follow a report in the New York Times newspaper, which said a number of senior officials had confirmed the plans.

Mr Rumsfeld said on Monday that the US was planning to discuss possible changes in its military presence in the Middle East with leaders in the region.

But the possibility of maintaining a permanent presence in Iraq had not been discussed, he said.

"I have never, that I can recall, heard the subject of a permanent base in Iraq discussed in any meeting," he told a Pentagon briefing.

"The likelihood of it seems to me to be so low that it does not surprise me that it's never been discussed in my presence, to my knowledge."

Evaluating 'footprint'

US tanks in position at the Martyrs' Monument in Baghdad
Many Iraqis see the US presence as an "occupation"
The newspaper quoted officials as saying a new military relationship with Iraq could allow US forces to be reduced in other parts of the Gulf region, particularly Saudi Arabia. The presence of US troops in the kingdom is a source of difficulty for the government there.

Four sites for bases in Iraq were named, including Baghdad International Airport.

The BBC's Nick Childs at the Pentagon says US military officials played down the report. But they did confirm that they are beginning to look at the US presence - or "footprint" as they call it - in the region as a whole, now that Saddam Hussein has been ousted.

This footprint could include a new military relationship with Baghdad, but the officials also said that they would be evaluating what kind of presence to maintain in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf as a whole, our correspondent adds.

Saudi Arabia has long experienced difficulties with the military presence on its soil, and a shift in military presence in the region could ease the sometimes tense relations between Washington and Riyadh.

A presence in Iraq could also put valuable pressure on Iran and Syria, recently the target of US Government accusations that it was harbouring members of Saddam Hussein's ousted regime, the BBC's Justin Webb reports from Washington.


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