U.S. tells Moscow it will not abandon Cuban base

September 13, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon has flatly rejected a Soviet request to reduce its presence at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or to provide notice of military maneuvers in the region in return for a planned Soviet troop withdrawal from the island.

"The Department of Defense is not considering pulling out of the naval base at Guantanamo Bay," Cmdr. Gregg Hartung, a Pentagon spokesman, said yesterday.

A day after Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's surprise announcement that Moscow would unilaterally withdraw a training brigade from Cuba, Soviet Foreign Minister Boris D. Pankin declared that the Kremlin expects Washington to take reciprocal moves to reduce military tensions there.

NB "We have informed [the United States] about our intentions and

asked them to take reciprocal steps," Mr. Pankin told reporters.

Guantanamo Bay, which long ago surrendered any strategic importance and is used primarily for naval training, is the only U.S. military site under a Communist government. The United States maintains a level of active military personnel -- 2,423 -- roughly comparable to the size of the Soviet brigade that is slated for withdrawal, which is estimated at 2,800 to 3,000.

The U.S. base, which houses a total of 9,315 military personnel, ++ civilian employees and dependents, has long been an irritant in the tumultuous relations between Cuban President Fidel Castro and successive U.S. administrations.

The U.S. claim to the Guantanamo Bay property dates to 1903, when the United States leased the land from Cuba. In 1934 the two nations renewed the treaty, agreeing that it could only be canceled by mutual agreement or if the United States voluntarily withdraws.

The base's training function could be shifted at much less cost to a number of U.S. locations, said retired Adm. Eugene Carroll, deputy director of the Center for Defense Information.

Last year the base cost $34 million to operate, as residents were forced to produce or ship in virtually all their necessities.

But Sen. Connie Mack, R-Fla., said the United States must remain firm on a complete Soviet withdrawal before it considers any change in its policy toward Cuba.

"Not until the last Soviet soldier, the last Soviet tank, the last Soviet rifle, the last Soviet bullet and the last dime of Soviet aid is out of Cuba should we believe the Soviets are truly serious about a new relationship on the island," Mr. Mack said.

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