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CNN BREAKING NEWS

U.S., Qatar Reach Agreement on Use of Airbase

Aired December 11, 2002 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Out of the small Gulf state of Qatar, the U.S. has been conducting war games in Qatar this week, and now there's a significant agreement to report.
Our Wolf Blitzer is there now, and he's got the details for us. He joins us now live.

Hello, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's a very important agreement for the United States and for the small Persian Gulf state, Leon, of Qatar.

Shortly, the visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will sit down, sign an agreement with the foreign minister of Qatar that will allow the United States to go ahead and use the huge Al Udaid Airbase. It's a formal agreement. The United States has been using that airbase now for sometime. Indeed, the government of Qatar went ahead and built the airbase hoping the United States would use it. It's got the longest runway in this part of the world, some 15,000 feet, capable of handling virtually all kinds of U.S. warplanes.

It sends an important signal to the rest of the region, especially coming as it does on the eve of a potential U.S.-led war against Iraq. This agreement involving the Al Udaid Airbase.

The defense secretary is here right now because of these war games that the U.S. Central Command is now engaged in, these war games dubbed internal look.

I want to bring in CNN military analyst, retired U.S. Major General Air Force Don Shepperd. How important of a deal is this? Because for all practical purposes, the U.S. Air Force has had access to Al Udaid for some years.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD, (RET.) CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, it's extremely important. Now the United States and Qatar become official allies with this agreement, and with that relationship comes all of the protection for the airbase, all of the resources of the United States. The United States will bring in other things to protect the airbase and to protect the kingdom.

I can't overemphasize the importance of this base. The long runways, the taxiways, the support facilities, they are built at Qatar expense, basically give us the ability to move troops and cargo to this headquarters at Asali (ph), as well as use the airbase itself. BLITZER: Just to be precise, the air base is Al Udaid, the military base is Asali (ph). That's where General Franks has established his temporary Central Command headquarters.

SHEPPERD: Yes, temporary headquarters, exercise going on there now. The facilities reportedly will be left in place, and we'll see where General Franks operates from, if military action is necessary.

BLITZER: The U.S. has eight other bases that it uses in the region. The Prince Sultan Airbase, for example, outside of Riyadh is also incredibly important.

SHEPPERD: Yes, all of the air bases here are important. If you're going to base 250,000 troops here for military action,. you need bases, you need ports, you need storage area, you need roads. So all of these are important, but having several allies in the region as opposed to depending upon just one or two is extremely important for military flexibility.

BLITZER: And as important as it is militarily, it's very important, otherwise the defense secretary ruffled would not even be here in Qatar right now, politically it's also important because it sends out a pretty strong message to the rest of the region.

SHEPPERD: Yeah, politically and diplomatically, it's very, very important. It says the United States is here, it will bring its power, its wealth, its prestige to this important area that contains most of the energy resources of the world. So this is important, Wolf.

BLITZER: So this is a big deal, and we're going to be watching a lot more of it. General Shepperd. Thanks for that analysis.

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