Arms Sales in Gulf Will Counter Terrorism, Rice Says

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice/Getty.

hide captionSecretary 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

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.

Gates, Rice Taking Arms Offer to Saudis

The White House is set to offer Gulf Arab countries as much as $20 billion in new, sophisticated weapons as part of a larger plan to block Iran's influence by developing a stronger strategic relationship with allies in the region.

Iran will be high on the agenda this week as both Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice embark on a weeklong trip through the region.

The official visit follows President Bush's somewhat cryptic announcement last week that seemed aimed at putting Iran on notice that the United States would be arming Tehran's strategic adversaries Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

"To protect our interests and to show our commitment to our friends in the region, we are enhancing our military presence, improving our bilateral security ties, and supporting those fighting the extremists across the Middle East," Mr. Bush said.

Gates and Rice have an ambitious agenda, including discussions of air and missile defense systems, according to Peter Rodman, who was until recently the Pentagon's chief liaison to Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states.

Rodman says that since Iraq has shown signs of implosion, Arab states — particularly Saudi Arabia — have started to get nervous about Tehran's increasing influence in the Persian Gulf region.

To counter the concern, the Bush administration has been holding out the possibility of selling the Saudis lots more weapons.

Rodman sees it as "a way of saying to them: 'Look, we are relevant to your security, you face an Iran threat, and we are here to reassure and in that way to contribute to the stability of a vital region.'"

It is basically a way for the administration to pursue its policy of containing the Iranians, said Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations.

"This 'quote unquote' containment of Iran will likely express itself in heavy militarization of the [Persian] Gulf," he said.

The United States is also working out deals with several Persian Gulf states for U.S. military access to their bases.

Over the past several months, Bush administration officials have been arguing that the Persian Gulf countries are actually terrified of Iran and terrified of what they see as Iran's growing influence in Iraq.

"They're afraid, first and foremost of the spread of Iranian influence in the region and they see the government of Iraq as basically a client of the Iranians," said Gregory Gause, who teaches Middle East politics at the University of Vermont. "The second thing they're afraid of is the spread of civil conflict in Iraq."

When it comes to Iran, countries such as Saudi Arabia play a double game; they nurture the relationship in public, but in private, the Saudis express a common concern over Iran with the United States.

"Privately I find a remarkable degree of strategic consensus," Rodman said. "Publicly, it's hard for them to say a lot. For the Arabs, they're neighbors of Iran, they have traditional relations with Iran, they talk to the Iranians but privately they are very worried."

To mitigate that worry, the administration figures a few dozen fighter jets, some missiles and an early warning radar site might just do the trick.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: