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Baker defends Kuwait's ruling family

Secretary of State James Baker acknowledged Wednesday that Kuwait's ruling Sabah family "may not be the optimum type of regime," but he defended the family's willingness in the wake of the emirate's liberation from Iraq to hold elections and consider granting suffrage to women. At a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, Baker was questioned about the U.S. view of post-war Kuwait in light of reports of torture and deportation of foreign nationals suspected of being sympathetic to Iraq. There also has been criticism in Kuwait and in the United States of the Sabah family for responding too slowly to calls for democratic reform.

Kuwait's actions have embarrassed some Bush administration policymakers, but in public U.S. officials have avoided criticism of the ruling family and instead have sought to encourage gradual change in the behavior of Kuwait's regime.

Officials say the United States has only limited influence over events in Kuwait and public criticism would be counterproductive. They say even though the United States went to great lengths to rescue Kuwait, the administration does not intend to insist that Kuwait or other Persian Gulf states transform themselves into genuine democracies or subject themselves to elections that could threaten their control.

"What was this war about? It was about restoring Kuwait's sovereignty," said an administration official familiar with U.S. policy toward Kuwait. "We can encourage and influence them, but they've got to run their country."

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