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. Washington Seeking To Calm Mideast With Arms Sales

US military aid plans aimed against Iran say some Russians
MOSCOW, July 31 (RIA Novosti) - The Bush administration's plans to sell modern weaponry and increase military assistance to its allies in the Middle East are aimed at exerting pressure on Iran and strengthening the Republicans' positions on the domestic front, Russian experts said Tuesday. The U.S. State Department announced Monday a new U.S. plan to sell some $20 billion in advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arab states over the next decade and to increase U.S. military aid to Israel by 25 percent, from an annual $2.4 billion at present to $3 billion a year, guaranteed for 10 years. The U.S. officials also said President George W. Bush would seek congressional approval for $13 billion in additional military aid to Egypt, which currently receives $1.3 billion annually. "The announced plans have apparently been prompted by a number of external and internal factors," said Alexander Shumilin, the director of a Moscow-based think tank on Middle East conflicts.

"The number one external factor is Washington's desire to signal its intentions to protect its allies in any confrontation with Tehran," the expert said, adding that the new initiative fit the general U.S. strategy of increasing pressure on Iran, which Washington considers a "rogue state." Sergei Rogov, the director of the Institute of U.S. and Canadian Studies, said: "This move is certainly aimed at strengthening the military potential of the states that are threatened by Tehran and preventing Iran from becoming a regional superpower." Rogov also said that Washington was attempting to improve its image among Arab states, which has been seriously damaged by decades of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a bloody war in Iraq.

"Arabs do not believe the U.S. can play the role of a fair broker," the expert said. "And the U.S. wants to create the impression that it is sincerely attempting to broker the Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement." Speaking about the internal factors that prompted the new U.S. initiative, both experts agreed that the Bush administration was trying to strengthen its positions on the domestic political front, seriously undermined by its apparent failures in the bloody campaign in Iraq, which has already claimed the lives of at least 3,652 U.S. soldiers since March 2003. "In view of a [domestic] political confrontation over Iraq, the Democrats are trying to crush the Bush administration," Shumilin said. "George Bush, in turn, is attempting to widen the scope of U.S. actions in the Middle East and use it as the evidence of his own success. This initiative brings a certain relief to the confrontation between the U.S. administration and the Democrats-run Congress over the Iraq war," the source said.

by Pascal Mallet
Brussels (AFP) July 30, 2007
US plans to extend huge military aid deals to Middle East and Gulf states is a high-risk attempt to give Saudi Arabia and others the muscle to calm the region's problems, military experts said Monday. "The failure of the American project for a democratic greater Middle East, confounded in the battle for Iraq, has forced Washington to try to salvage the situation by distributing military aid all over the place," said Joseph Henrotin, editor-in-chief of the French Defence and International Security periodical.

The United States Monday announced new military pacts worth 13 billion dollars for Egypt and 30 billion for Israel over 10 years, plus billions more for Saudi Arabia and Gulf states.

The US plans will "help bolster forces of moderation and support a broader strategy to counter the negative influences of Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran," said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington as she and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates set off on a rare joint trip to the region, seeking assurances of help in stabilizing Iraq.

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states will be aided to "support their ability to secure peace and stability in the Gulf region," Rice said.

Reports have cited potential arms deals with the Saudis and five other Gulf states -- the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, worth least 20 billion dollars.

"These arms sales to Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) States are given by the United States to Saudi Arabia in expectation that it can help calm down the situation in the Sunni world, where it exercises an influence" said Henrotin.

Evoking Iran's "strategic threat" Washington is apparently helping the Saudis to counterbalance Tehran.

In truth, the Belgian expert said, the more immediate US objective is to "dissuade Riyadh from covertly aiding Sunni extremists against Iran and its allies in Syria and the Shiite Lebanese Hezbollah.

"Those same Sunni extremists could also turn against the United States," Henrotin added.

At the same time Washington is reinforcing the Israelis to ease fears which arise there every time Arab nations receive US military aid while at the same time "calming Iranian fervour for a nuclear arsenal," he added.

It is a complicated balancing act, added Henrotin, with the US supplying all its allies at the same time "in the hope they will not turn them against each other."

Ruprecht Polenz, chairman of the German parliament's foreign affairs committee, fears the balancing act won't work.

"If you add more explosives to a powder keg, you increase the risk and do not make the region more secure," said Polenz, a senior figure in Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrat party, said in an interview in the Frankfurter Rundschau daily on Monday.

He added the warning that the message the United States hoped to send to Iran with the weapons deal could backfire, leading Tehran to step up its own arms drive.

Christopher Pang, head of the British Royal United Services Institute's Middle East programme said the US "has used the same tactics before of arming those they hope will keep a perceived threat in check."

"The risk of course is that it provokes an arms race in the region," he added.

Such fears were shared by Caroline Pailhe, a researcher at the Brussels-based peace and security research group GRIP. "In a region where energy reserves play an important role, it is always dangerous to give certain players more arms," she said.

"Due to the instability of the regimes involved, the policy could one day rebound on the Americans," she added, recalling that the West had previously aided the Iran at the time of the Shah, Saddam in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Yossi Melman, a defence specialist for the Israeli Haaretz newspaper put it in these terms: "Who knows what could happen in Saudi Arabia? Today it is the House of Saud. Tomorrow it could be the House of Bin Laden."

earlier related report
US Arms Pacts To Counter Iran And Syria Says Rice
Washington (AFP) July 30 - The United States announced Monday new military pacts worth 20 billion dollars for Saudi Arabia, 13 billion dollars for Egypt and 30 billion for Israel in a bid to counter Iran. Details of the new Middle East military aid bonanza came as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates left Washington for a rare joint trip to the region, seeking assurances of help in stabilizing Iraq. "To support our continued diplomatic engagement in the region, we are forging new assistance agreements with the Gulf States, Israel, and Egypt," Rice said in a statement.

The move will "help bolster forces of moderation and support a broader strategy to counter the negative influences of Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran," she said.

The 20-billion-dollar arms package for Saudi Arabia calls for missile defenses, early warning systems, air power and naval systems to counter Iran, said a senior US defense official briefing reporters traveling with Gates.

US media had reported that Washington was considering arms deals worth 20 billion dollars for the Saudis and five other Gulf states, but the figure discussed by the defense official was only for Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia "may come in with at least that much, the others we don't know yet," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Twenty billion is definitely a floor."

The official would not discuss specific weapons that would be included in the package.

"These are weapons that Saudi Arabia will be considering and will be needing over the next decade or so in order for them to meet their security needs as they confront Iran and other threats," the official said.

Rice said before leaving that the United States had agreed a new 10-year, 13-billion pact to bolster Egypt's capacity to address shared strategic goals.

Rice and Gates flew on separate airplanes to the Middle East.

A new 30 billion dollar pact with Israel over 10 years will soon be concluded, which hikes the value of US military assistance to the Jewish state by 600 million dollars a year on average.

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states will also benefit, to help "support their ability to secure peace and stability in the Gulf region," Rice said.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said reports of the deal showed the United States was bent on "spreading fear" in the Middle East to generate better sales for its weapons and munitions.

"The United States has always had special policy of spreading fear in the region and tarnishing existing good relations" between countries in the Middle East, Hosseini said.

Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns will to travel to Israel and the region next month to finalize the agreements, Rice said.

"We wanted to send a strong signal of support for the security concerns of all our partners in the region," Burns told reporters.

The package was also an "effort to rebuff the attempt by Iran to advance its own strategic influence in the region," he said.

While there was no formal "quid pro quo" for the arms sales, Burns said, Washington did expect allies to back its role in Iraq and the fragile Iraqi government.

Rice and Gates will make rare joint visits to Egypt and Saudi Arabia before separate trips to other parts of the region.

In Egypt, they are scheduled to meet ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries as well as Jordan and Egypt in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh.

Amid growing calls at home to withdraw US forces in Iraq, the duo are also expected to reaffirm US commitment to regional security against possible threats from Iran and its nuclear program.

In addition, Washington is expected to underline concerns that some Sunni Arab nations are offering financial aid to foreign fighters fueling the insurgency against the fragile Shiite-led, US-backed government in Baghdad.

Washington is particularly concerned that its most powerful Sunni Arab ally, Saudi Arabia, is bankrolling Sunni militants and serving as a conduit for them to stoke the insurgency in Iraq.

Aside from Saudi Arabia, foreign fighters flowing into Iraq via US arch-enemy Syria come from Qatar and Yemen, among other Middle East allies, US officials said.

The trip will also allow Rice, who will travel separately to Jerusalem and Ramallah to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials, to prepare for international Middle East peace talks, which President George W. Bush said would be held later this year.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Merkel Party Warns US Arms For Gulf Could Set Off Powder Keg
Berlin (AFP) Jul 31, 2007
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats are worried that US plans to send a major arms package to Gulf states could inflame a volatile region, a party leader was quoted as saying Monday. The chairman of the German parliament's foreign affairs committee, Ruprecht Polenz, told the daily Frankfurter Rundschau that the Middle East was already a "powder keg" and that an influx of weapons could set off. "If you add more explosives to a powder keg, you increase the risk and do not make the region more secure," he said.

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