Mon, Jul 30, 2007 - Page 7 News List

US prepares Saudi Arabian arms deal amid Israeli concern

AGENCIES, JERUSALEM

Israel adopted a cautious stance yesterday over a reported US$20 billion arms package to Saudi Arabia and other regional US allies intended to counter a perceived threat from Iran.

"We have no doubt that the United States would not do anything that could endanger the security of Israel," Miri Eisin said yesterday.

Eisin is the spokeswoman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

She spoke asfter a senior US defense official said that the US is readying a major arms package for Saudi Arabia with an eye to countering the changing threat comiing from Tehran, Israel's arch foe.

The Pentagon provided no details on the arms package, which will reportedly total US$20 billion over the next decade.

But it will include new weapons for the United Arab Emirates, and military and economic support to Egypt, officials said. The Saudi package would upgrade the country's missile defenses and air force and increase its naval capabilities, a US official said. It "may make sense" also to provide Saudi Arabia with satellite-guided munitions, the official said.

LONG TERM EFFORTS

"None of these things are final proposals by any means," the official said, stressing discussions with the countries involved and members of Congress were still needed.

The deal was part of long-term US efforts to assist allies rather than a new push to arm them, the official said.

"This isn't an arming of the Middle East," the official said. "This is part of a continual, deliberate program."

The deal is intended to strengthen US allies in the Middle East and counter the perceived threat from Iran, whose nuclear activities have recently provoked major concern in Israel and the US.

"These questions were basically brought up during the last meeting between the prime minister and the US president in Washington on June 19," Eisin said.

"On that occasion, the president said he wanted to increase aid to Israel but without mentioning figures," she said.

Israel's Maariv daily said Israeli and US officials are working on a deal that would involve a surge in US defense aid to Israel by some 43 percent or US$9 billion, raising the total sum of defense aid to US$30.4 billion.

ISRAELI CONCERNS

The New York Times in April reported that the US-Gulf arms package had been delayed because of Israeli concerns over the sale to Saudi Arabia of certain precision guided munitions.

Asked whether stepping up the military capabilities of a country which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel could pose a threat to the Jewish state, Eisin reponded to the question by describing Saudi Arabia as a "moderate Arab country engaged in the fight against terrorism in its own country."

"Saudi Arabia also supports a peace initiative with Israel and we hope that it [Riyadh] will play a more active role to encourage negotiations," she said.

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