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Top Stories - Reuters
Friday, January 24, 9:15 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The State Department sent a cable to embassies around the world on Friday telling Americans abroad to be ready to leave their resident country quickly in an emergency, its first such blanket warning.
A senior State Department official made no comment when asked if the cable was related to a possible military campaign against Iraq, which Washington has threatened with war if it fails to give up its suspected weapons of mass destruction.
The message to U.S. citizens advises them to have a supply of prescription medicines on hand, keep their passports up to date and maintain adequate stocks of food in the event of political unrest, natural disasters or "terrorist" attacks.
"The Department is asking all U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide to send a warden message to local American communities with advice on preparedness for an emergency," said State Department spokeswoman Susan Pittman.
U.S. embassies often send such "warden messages" to update Americans abroad on threats and to offer advice on protecting themselves, but the State Department said "this is the first time it has recommended posts issue a warden message regarding the personal preparedness of individual American citizens abroad."
Pittman, reading from prepared "talking points," said the latest message summarized steps Americans abroad should take "to ensure they are prepared for an emergency, whether it is a personal emergency or is the result of political or economic unrest, natural disaster, or terrorist attack."
A senior State Department official, who first disclosed the warning, made no comment when asked if it was related to the possibility of a war with Iraq, which the United States accuses of having chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs.
"We're asking our embassies to remind Americans ... to take normal preparations, routine preparations, to leave if for some reason, whatever it might be, they might have to," said the senior official, who spoke on condition that he not be named.
Asked if he was saying the warning was totally routine, he replied: "I didn't say it was totally routine. I said we are doing this and that we have done it before. We thought it was appropriate to remind people to take appropriate precautions."
On Jan. 11, 1991, prior to the start of the 1991 Gulf War (news - web sites) on Jan. 16, the State Department warned Americans that if war were to break out "the threat of terrorism against American citizens would increase significantly."
In the run-up to the 1991 Gulf war, the State Department also ordered or authorized the departure of nonessential U.S. government employees and dependents from countries including Jordan, Yemen, Algeria, Israel, the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar.