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Tue Dec 11, 2012 1:59PM
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says Washington will maintain a “strong presence” in the Middle East despite a recent strategic shift to Asia. "Let me assure you that the United States is strong enough that we can maintain a strong presence in the Middle East as well as in the Pacific," Panetta said during a visit to Kuwait on Tuesday. This is while reports indicate the US is planning to deploy the majority of its naval fleet as well as other advanced weaponry to the Asia-Pacific. The defense secretary said the US would only have one aircraft carrier in the Middle East for about two months while maintenance work is to be carried out on a second carrier. Panetta added that the US has nearly 50,000 soldiers and warships across the region. Panetta is scheduled to meet with Kuwaiti leaders and some 13,500 US troops stationed in the country ahead of the Christmas holidays. The defense secretary’s two-day visit to Kuwait comes while the oil-rich Persian Gulf country has been witnessing demonstrations against changes to its electoral law. SZH/PKH