RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – The top U.S. military officer, Adm. Mike Mullen, arrived in Saudi Arabia on Sunday for a weeklong tour of Persian Gulf states as pro-democracy protesters across the Middle East and North Africa face suppressive, deadly attacks from militaries and state security forces.

With one eye on the unrest, Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and President Barack Obama’s senior military adviser, will visit state and military leaders and U.S. troops on the Arabian Peninsula, he said, "to be here and hear firsthand what's on the leaderships' mind in these countries, who have been good friends for a long time, in many cases."

"It's stunning to me that it's moved so quickly," Mullen told reporters aboard his aircraft shortly before landing. "We've talked about the underlying issues for a long time, but it's the speed with which this is happening. ... Everybody's working hard to get ahead of it."

In the next week, Mullen also is scheduled to visit Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Djibouti, a trip planned before Christmas that now presents an opportunity for the chairman to talk face to face with regional leaders about the recent turmoil.

"I think the dominant issue of the day is going to be stability in the Middle East," Mullen said. "And so part of what I hope to accomplish is just reassure our friends, and also just listen to what's on their mind."

Mullen arrives two days after Obama said he was “deeply concerned” about attacks on protesters in Bahrain, Yemen and Libya.

Last weekend, Mullen attended the retirement of Israel’s defense chief and visited King Abdullah II of Jordan, keeping those previously scheduled appointments despite the regional protests. He cautioned Congress last week to wait until the protests play out and then, “only with an abundance of caution and a thorough appreciation for the long view,” should they decide whether to alter billions in U.S. aid funneling to the region. After spectacular protests took down the 23-year reign of Tunisia's President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and the 30-year reign of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, all eyes now are on smaller, but persistent protests destabilizing the neighboring small island country of Bahrain, a Saudi-sponsored state that is ruled by a royal family and hosts roughly 4,200 U.S. servicemembers and the Navy’s 5th Fleet. The fleet sits across the gulf from Iran and provides strategic watch over the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea and shipping lanes into the Indian Ocean. The U.S. gave Bahrain’s military $21 million in aid last year, according to published reports.

In Abu Dhabi, Mullen will stop at the biennial International Defense Exposition and Conference, or IDEX, the largest international arms expo in the Middle East, which attracts more than 1,000 companies and weapons buyers from the U.S. to China and Russia – but not Iran or North Korea. Already, Lockheed Martin announced at the expo it would finalize a $7 billion sale of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile defense systems to UAE this spring, according to reports, just a taste of the billions to be exchanged this week.

The chairman also will participate in Kuwait celebrations this week marking the 20th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm.

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