Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci traveled to Saudi Arabia on Thursday amid unease among the Persian Gulf oil states about a possible cutback in U.S. naval forces protecting shipping against Iranian attacks.
Western diplomats said that Carlucci, conducting a wide-ranging review of U.S. policy, will seek to reassure Saudi Arabia that any reduction will not signal a weakening of Washington's support for moderate gulf states.
"Carlucci made very clear in Kuwait and Bahrain this week there will be no change in policy," one diplomat said. "A reduction in warships would be a question of fine-tuning and tactics."
Saudi Arabia is the third and final stop on Carlucci's gulf tour, which has been marked by growing speculation over an imminent cutback in the 33 U.S. warships now in the gulf or nearby waters.
Administration officials in Washington said Wednesday that the Navy plans to withdraw the battleship Iowa and the helicopter carrier Okinawa in the next few months because they are not needed to help protect reflagged Kuwaiti oil tankers.