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Arms Sales in Gulf Will Counter Terrorism, Rice Says

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will embark Monday on a four-day tour of the Gulf region with Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Jim Watson
AFP/Getty Images
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will embark Monday on a four-day tour of the Gulf region with Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The Bush administration said Monday a $20 billion military sales package to Arab countries will promote stability in a Middle East threatened by terrorism and Iran's weapons ambitions.

Embarking on a four-day tour of the region with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the proposed U.S. package, "will help bolster forces of moderation and support a broader strategy to counter the negative influences of al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran."

The White House hopes the package will secure Iraq and the Persian Gulf as well as driving out terrorism.

"We are helping to strengthen the defensive capabilities of our partners," Rice said in a statement. "We plan to initiate discussions with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states on a proposed package of military technologies that will help support their ability to secure peace and stability in the Gulf region."

The new sales to Arab countries, notably Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, will be balanced with a more than 25 percent increase in military aid to Israel over the next 10 years. This will enable the Jewish state to keep its qualitative military edge over neighbors with which it has no peace deal.

Israel will receive a total of $30 billion in U.S. military assistance while Egypt, which along with Jordan has made peace with Israel, will get $13 billion as part of the broader package.

Specific figures for Saudi Arabia and Gulf nations like Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, will be determined in the coming weeks, according to according to Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, Washington's third-highest ranking diplomat, who will travel to the region in mid-August for follow-up talks.

Any sales will have to be approved by Congress, where some lawmakers have expressed deep concerns about their impact on the region and Israel.

Administration officials have said they would be pursuing such sale even if Iran were not perceived by its neighbors as a significant threat.

"The Iran element is one factor, it's not the overriding factor in why we're doing this," Burns said.

But, at the same time, he put the possible threat from Iran in stark terms.

Across the region, "there is a high degree of concern about Iran's quest to become a nuclear weapons power but also about fact that as you know Iran has armed and funded most of the Middle East terrorist groups," Burns said.

The intended military sales were announced as Washington renews appeals for countries in the region to support its efforts in Iraq and the Iraqi government. Burns denied that the proposed packages were meant to buy backing for Iraq.

"There are no formal quid pro quos in this, but it figures that we would want our friends to be supportive of Iraq," he said.

From The Associated Press.

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