AFP: The United States Monday announced new military pacts worth 13 billion dollars for Egypt, 30 billion for Israel and billions more for Saudi Arabia and Gulf states, in a bid to counter Iran. by P. Parameswaran
WASHINGTON, July 30, 2007 (AFP) – The United States Monday announced new military pacts worth 13 billion dollars for Egypt, 30 billion for Israel and billions more for Saudi Arabia and Gulf states, 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 set off on 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.
Rice said Washington had agreed a new 10-year, 13-billion pact to bolster Egypt’s capacity to address shared strategic goals.
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.
Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns later told reporters in a conference call, the Saudi and Gulf states component would be “in the billions” of dollars but said a total figure had not yet been calculated.
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.
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.
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 said.
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 fuelling 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.
Rice will travel separately to Jerusalem and Ramallah for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials.
Last week, the Egyptian and Jordanian foreign ministers visited Israel to tout a peace plan first mooted by Saudi Arabia in 2002, and said they were encouraged by the Israeli response.
The trip will also allow Rice to prepare for international Middle East peace talks, which President George W. Bush announced would be held later this year.