September 26, 2018 / 1:18 PM / a month ago

Kuwait calls U.S. decision to remove missile systems 'routine'

KUWAIT/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. decision to remove anti-missile systems from several Arab allies was an “internal and routine procedure”, Kuwait said on Wednesday, adding that its defenses would not be affected.

FILE PHOTO: U.S manned Patriot missiles protect a nearby British and U.S airbase close to oilfields in Kuwait March 16, 2003. REUTERS/Russell Boyce/File Photo

A U.S. defense official told Reuters that Washington was pulling four Patriot missile systems from Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain in line with a Pentagon shift in focus away from the fight against Islamist militants in order to address tensions with China and Russia.

“Kuwait’s Patriot missile system, independently, protects and covers all its geographical borders,” the Gulf Arab state’s chief of staff said a statement. It added that the U.S. decision had been coordinated with Kuwait’s military.

Two Patriot systems, which are used to shoot down missiles and planes, will be redeployed from Kuwait, and one each from Jordan and Bahrain, the U.S. official said. The decision was made some time ago and the removal is scheduled for next month, the official added.

The move follows rising rhetoric against Iran from the United States, which earlier this year pulled out of the 2015 deal in which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear work in return for the lifting of most Western sanctions.

“Due to operational security concerns, we’re not going to discuss the movement of specific capabilities into and out of the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility,” a U.S. Central Command spokesman said in a statement.

The news was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

There was no immediate comment from Jordan and Bahrain did not respond immediately to a Reuters’ request for a comment.

Wealthy Gulf states have stepped up their defense spending amid higher tensions in the region, where Shi’ite Iran and Saudi Arabia are locked in a tussle for influence, backing rival forces in political struggles or wars in Lebanon, Bahrain, Syria and Yemen.

Relations between United States and Russia face a number of strains, including over Russian support for President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war and U.S. allegations that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Russian denies any wrongdoing.

Beijing and Washington are locked in an increasingly bitter trade war and are at odds over other issues, such as U.S. support for self-ruled Taiwan which China claims, and U.S. sanctions on China’s military for buying Russian weapons.

Reporting by Ahmed Hagagy and Idrees Ali in Washington, writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by William Maclean and Alistair Bell

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