Reagan Denies Ordering Ships to Leave Gulf
President Reagan denied today that he is ordering U.S. Navy ships out of the Persian Gulf, although Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci said he and Reagan will meet shortly to review the size of the force there.
“I don’t answer questions, but that one’s easy--No,” Reagan replied when asked if he was ordering a withdrawal of any U.S. ships from the war-torn gulf area. Reagan refused to say anything more on the subject as he was questioned at the conclusion of a White House bill-signing ceremony.
U.S. officials have said the Persian Gulf force, costing roughly $20 million a month above normal expenses, may be cut back.
Carlucci told reporters in Bahrain today that he had not approved any recommendation that some ships be removed from the gulf. He repeated the assertion in an interview on ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America” but said the United States has no intention of maintaining any more than “the minimum number of forces needed to do the job” in the gulf.
No Decision About Cutback
Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said there had been no decision about a cutback, “but obviously we would always look to that possibility.”
He said there had been no change in policy and that “our objective is to try to remove ships and lessen tension there whenever possible. But there’s nothing anticipated at this time that I’m aware of.”
Fitzwater said budget cutbacks will force some changes in Pentagon spending. “However, we have no intention of shirking our responsibility or changing our posture in the gulf as a result,” he said.
Carlucci also said in the televised interview from Bahrain that no policy changes on the U.S. presence in the gulf are being contemplated.
More Ships Than Needed
Administration sources, speaking Tuesday on condition of anonymity, said the Navy has more ships than it needs to protect the Kuwaiti-owned, American-flagged oil tankers in the gulf. The sources also acknowledged that the high cost of the operation is a consideration.
Carlucci said that after he returns to Washington next week, he will discuss with Reagan and military leaders any change in the “mix of ships” in the Persian Gulf.
Asked on the ABC program whether any ships were being removed, Carlucci said, “Those are just reports. . . . They are not true as of this point, because I have not made any decisions.”
But he added, “Certainly, if the nature of the threat changes or if our allies are picking up some of the burden, say in minesweeping, then its always possible to change the mix of ships.”