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US offers huge arms aid package for Mideast
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07:53, July 31, 2007

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The United States yesterday announced a proposed $13 billion military aid package for Egypt and a $30 billion package for Israel, along with plans to provide such aid to Saudi Arabia and Gulf states.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made the announcement hours before leaving with Defense Secretary Robert Gates for a rare joint trip to Egypt and Saudi Arabia where they are seeking more Arab help in stabilizing Iraq.

Washington is striving to assure Gulf allies, worried by the growing strength of Iran and war in Iraq, that the United States is committed to the region and will stand by them, with arms sales part of that process, US officials say.

"This effort will help bolster forces of moderation and support a broader strategy to counter the negative influences of Al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran," said Rice in a statement announcing the defense agreements.

The packages for Egypt and Israel would be for 10-year periods.

Rice said the Bush administration was starting discussions with Egypt for the $13 billion military-assistance deal, which would strengthen Egypt's ability to "address shared strategic goals."

"Further modernizing the Egyptian and Saudi Armed Forces and increasing interoperability will bolster our partners' resolve in confronting the threat of radicalism and cement their respective roles as regional leaders in the quest for Middle East peace and in ensuring Lebanon's freedom and independence," Rice said.

The Saudi package, which along with the other deals must be approved by Congress, is expected to upgrade the country's missile defenses and air force and increase its naval capabilities, a defense official said on Saturday.

Bush administration officials said the amount for the Saudi aid deal is still being negotiated.

Rice said that US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns planned to travel to Israel and the region in mid-August to finalize the agreements.

Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said the United States was trying to "create a fake arms race in order to make their big arms companies survive", the official IRNA news agency reported.

Najjar said: "In selling arms to the countries of the region, the Americans always act in a way that preserves the military superiority of the Zionist regime (Israel)."

'No need' for higher-level talks

An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said yesterday that higher level talks with the US on security in Iraq were not necessary.

Mohammad Ali Hosseini's comments seemed to contradict those by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who said last week after a meeting between the two countries' ambassadors to Iraq that Teheran was open to the idea of more senior level discussions.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said last week there would be no request from Washington for higher-level talks following the meeting between US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Iranian Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qomi in Baghdad.

Source: China Daily/Agencies

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