- Associated Press - Monday, November 7, 2011

KUWAIT CITY (AP) — A top Kuwaiti official has thrown doubt on American proposals to station at least 4,000 additional soldiers in the Gulf nation following the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq at the end of the year.

Sheik Jaber Al Mubarak Al Sabah, who is also defense minister, was quoted Sunday as saying there is no plan to increase U.S. troop levels in the country.

It was not immediately clear whether this was Kuwait‘s final word to the Pentagon or a suggestion that nothing is yet resolved and negotiations are in progress. The reference to the issue of U.S. troops was mentioned as part of a lengthy statement on a variety of issues.

A rebuff from Kuwait would be a significant blow to U.S. efforts to boost the numbers of forces in the Gulf, where the U.S. and its Arab allies fear Iran’s expanding military reach. Earlier this month, U.S. officials said the Pentagon hoped to shift at least 4,000 soldiers from Iraq to Kuwait at the end of the year, pending a final decision by military planners and Kuwaiti leaders.

Sheik Jaber was quoted by the official Kuwait News Agency as saying that Kuwait will be used only as a transit point for forces, including those leaving Iraq. Kuwaiti officials could not be reached Monday to elaborate on the comments.

Thousands of U.S. troops have been in Kuwait since the 1991 war that drove Iraqi forces out of the oil-rich Gulf state. A decade-old agreement has governed the number of U.S. troops in Kuwait, but it is believed to expire at the end of this year and thus open the possibility of talks on all provisions for U.S. forces in Kuwait.

The proposed relocation of troops to Kuwait is part of a still-developing Pentagon strategy that ends the Iraq war but positions a strong U.S. force just across the border. It also fits with wider U.S. attempts to challenge the growth of Iran’s ground and naval forces.

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