14 JULY 1961, Page 5

Kuwait : Time to Depart

ALTHOUGH Britain and Arab nationalism were at one in resisting Kassem's claim to Kuwait as part of Iraq, Arabs everywhere are now impatiently demanding our withdrawal, and Arab nationalist leaders are declining pub- licly to sponsor Kuwait's independence in the United Nations while British troops remain in the sheikhdom at the request of a sheikhly ruler. There is nothing topsy-turvy about all this: the blunt -fact is that in 1961 British troops cannot land in the Arab world for any purpose and receive a welcome.

Credit is, however, due to the Government here for showing itself aware of Arab sensitivities. Lord Home's nostalgia beforelhe Press Associa- tion was balanced by his little-noted but iMportant gesture of granting Cairo's A,Ichbar al- l'ont correspondent an interview. The RN con- voy, having passed Through the Suez Canal, was then wisely halted at Aden. The Foreign Office Was also quick to jump on the British CO in Kuwait when he began pronouncing on Iraqi military intentions. Above all, the Government began withdrawing some of the 6,000 men and some of their RAF support. The Arab League must now produce satis- factory guarantees of Kuwaiti independence of a kind acceptable to the Ruler. Meanwhile, the situation remains dangerous. 'British troops are there at the Ruler's request; if the Arab League does not produce .a resounding settle- ment formula it may be felt that the troops must stay. But the Kuwaitis themselves are restive; their nationalism may transcend their appreciation of the Sheikh's welfare benevolence. Britain, in fact, could provoke trouble for the Ruler by waiting for him to release the troops, quite apart from spoiling her new relations with Cairo. To go or to tarry . . . the dilemma con- fronts us: one more instance of the dangers of Britain's last archaic commitments in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, no amount of Right-wing indig- nation should prompt a slanging-match with President Nasser as he calls for British with- .drawal; he is voicing an almost universal Arab feeling; besides it is better that the demand should come from non-Communist Arab leader- ship than only, and conspicuously, from Mos- cow. The sooner the Government can extract itself from Kuwait—if need be by a flat announcement of a withdrawal date, regardless whether 'prestige' has been satisfied by resound- ing guarantees—then the sooner Britain can begin on the urgently needed revision of the entire Persian Gulf relationship.