U.S. 'Strongly' Urges Citizens to Leave Persian Gulf; Countries Recall Embassy Staffs as War Inches Closer

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Byline: Nicholas Kralev, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Foreign diplomats in Iraq have begun leaving the country, and the United States has urged its citizens in other Persian Gulf states to consider departing amid a war looming in the region.

The State Department issued travel warnings for Kuwait and Saudi Arabia late last week, cautioning about "increased security concerns" and authorizing "the departure of family members and non-emergency personnel" at the U.S. embassies "on a voluntary basis."

"Private American citizens ... should evaluate rigorously their own security situations and are strongly urged to consider departing," the department said.

The two main American schools in Kuwait said yesterday that they will suspend classes starting Monday through March 22. The American School of Kuwait and the American International School educate about 270 American children and about 2,000 foreign students.

"There is a lot of tension, and we can't live with tension," said Wael Abdul Ghafour, owner of the American School of Kuwait.

Ron Hawley, personnel administrator for the American International School, said the prospect of war and recent statements by Iraq that it might attack Kuwait "make American teachers nervous."

Although the schools are not affiliated with the U.S. Embassy, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, "We do consult regularly with the American School in Kuwait, as a member of the American community."

Meanwhile, the Polish diplomat who acts as Washington's only representative in Baghdad, Krzysztof Bernacki, will leave tomorrow "for long consultations in his country," the Polish Embassy said yesterday.

The Foreign Ministry in Warsaw later said it also had recalled its ambassador to Baghdad, Andrzej Biera, but it did not indicate for how long.

"The complicated situation requires direct talk with the head of the station to decide on the margin for maneuver in the near future," said Boguslaw Majewski, a ministry spokesman.

The State Department expressed appreciation of the efforts the Poles "have been making and continue to make on behalf of the United States under the difficult circumstances in Baghdad."

According to diplomatic sources in the region, representatives of several other countries, including Spain and Yugoslavia, have already left Baghdad. Some foreign embassies have shut down partially or completely, and other missions are contemplating evacuation in the next couple of weeks.

"There have been general discussions about evacuation in the diplomatic community, but the decisions are individual ones by individual embassies," Manzar Shafiq, the Pakistani ambassador to Iraq, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press late last month. …