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With Iraq Threat Easing, 1 Of 2 Carriers May Leave Defense Secretary Perry Calls Recent Days’ Evidence ‘Positive’

Mon., Sept. 23, 1996

Defense Secretary William Perry said Sunday that Iraq was “backing off” from its recent military threats and that as a result, the United States could decide as early as next week to remove one of the two aircraft carriers now in the Persian Gulf.

He indicated, though, that since Iraq could resume its threats to its neighbors in the gulf at a moment’s notice, the additional 3,500 U.S. ground troops being sent to Kuwait would remain there for at least several months.

“All of the evidence that I have seen in the last four or five days is positive,” Perry told reporters aboard a flight to Sweden. “I truly believe that Iraq is backing off from the threatening actions they were taking a week ago. But we will watch it very carefully, very carefully - every day, every hour.”

A decision to pull out one of the two aircraft carriers would signal an easing of the military and diplomatic crisis that began last month. Tens of thousands of Iraqi troops stormed into areas of northern Iraq that had previously been considered an internationally monitored safe haven to protect Iraqi Kurds from the government’s aggression.

The United States responded to the Iraqi incursion by attacking Iraqi air defense sites in southern Iraq, near its border with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and expanding a so-called no-flight zone in south. It also dispatched the carrier Enterprise, which was joined last week by the Carl Vinson, and is flying in the additional troops to Kuwait, where 1,200 U.S. soldiers had already been stationed.

When the Iraqis retaliated by firing anti-aircraft missiles in southern Iraq, Perry publicly threatened a “disproportionate” military response and suggested that another U.S. attack was imminent.

But the threat of a new U.S. strike on Iraq has apparently passed, in part because of the objections of France and other U.S. allies.

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