M. A. Saki / Tehran Times & David Gollust /VOA & State Department – 2007-07-31 21:40:04
New Arms Deal Meant to Counter Iran or Make Money?
M. A. Saki / Tehran Times
TEHRAN, July 30 (MNA) — The United States recently offered Saudi Arabia a $20 billion, 10-year arms sales package.
Washington claims the proposed sale is intended to upgrade the Saudi military’s ability to counter possible Iranian aggression in the Persian Gulf region. “This is all about Iran,” a US official told CNN on condition of anonymity.
The major powers are seeking to spark arms races between countries to earn profits and create jobs at home. The best customers are affluent Arab countries in the Middle East, which have become fat on high oil prices.
The US is attempting to recover some of the money it has spent importing oil and funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The portrayal of Iran as a threat to neighboring Arab states, and particularly Saudi Arabia, is very hard to swallow. Saudi Arabia also does not view Iran as a threat.
Saudi and Iranian officials address each other as “brotherly” countries and hug each other when they meet.
Iran has been a major regional power for millennia and all regional Arab states acknowledge this fact.
To demonstrate its principled policy of establishing close relations with its southern neighbors, Iran has been developing and strengthening ties with them and has even overlooked the fact that they gave about $100 billion in financial assistance to Saddam Hussein’s Baath regime during its eight-year war against Iran.
Iran and the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC) states are linked by regional, cultural, and economic interests, and thus Iran would never antagonize its neighbors.
About half a million Iranians visit Saudi Arabia annually as hajj and umra pilgrims and funnel hundreds of millions of dollars into the Saudi economy.
Iran is also the biggest regional trade partner of the United Arab Emirates. Iranians have invested about $300 billion in the UAE and thousands of Iranian nationals live in the country.
Iran has even proposed establishing a common security pact with the PGCC members — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman. Tehran has also floated the idea of creating an Iran-PGCC nuclear consortium for enriching uranium since the PGCC states want to develop nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels.
Iran is a potential rival of the US in the region, but not a rival of Saudi Arabia and its other neighbors, which is something that US officials are well aware of.
It would be more accurate to say that the Saudi kingdom is more nervous about the instability created by the US invasion of Iraq and the United States’ blind support of Israel than the rising military might of Iran.
No one has forgotten last summer’s Israel-Lebanon war, when the US airlifted sophisticated weapons to Israel and blocked a UN Security Council call for an immediate ceasefire. During the war, the Saudi government poured 1 billion dollars into Lebanese banks to prevent an economic collapse. The war was in a sense a proxy war between Arab states and the US
So, if Saudi Arabia is interested in buying weapons like satellite-guided missiles from the US, it most probably wants to counter Israel’s sophisticated weaponry.
On the other hand, the US is trying to start an arms race to sell more arms and recoup it losses from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and is just using the argument that Iran is a threat to its Persian Gulf neighbors to facilitate the proposed arms deal.
Rice Defends US Mideast Arms Sales Plans
David Gollust /VOA & State Department
WASHINGTON (July 31. 2007) — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, heading for the Middle East for a joint diplomatic mission with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, has defended Bush administration plans for major new weapons sales in the region. Rice says the multi-billion-dollar plans will not upset the regional arms balance or halt American democracy agenda among Arab states. VOA’s David Gollust reports from Shannon, Ireland where Rice made a refueling stop.
The package, made public just before Rice’s departure from Washington, would sharply increase US weapons sales and military assistance to Arab allies and to Israel.
In a talk with reporters traveling with her, Rice defended the plan as a continuation of a long-standing American commitment to regional allies, while assuring supporters of Israel in the US Congress that the military balance in the region will not change.
Under the plan, Israel would receive three billion dollars a year in US aid – a 25 percent increase – with a commitment that funding would continue at that level for 10 years – for a $30 billion total.
Egypt would get $13 billion over the same 10-year period along with additional security-related economic aid to be announced later. Meanwhile Rice and Gates, in their unusual joint mission to the area, will begin talks this week with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies on arms sales to them that could exceed $20 billion.
In the airborne news conference, Rice said the plan is intended to reassure American allies during what she termed a “complicated” moment in the Middle East:
“We are very aware of, and very determined, to maintain the ability of our allies and friends to rely on the United States to help them with their security concerns,” she said. “At the same time, we are also determined to maintain the balances, the military and strategic balance, within the region that we’ve been committed to as well.”
Rice dismissed Iranian criticism that the US arms plan would destabilize the region, saying any instability that exists now can be laid to Iran and its backing for Palestinian and Lebanese radicals and insurgents in Iraq.
She said Iran constitutes single most important strategic challenge to US interests in region and to, as she put it, “the kind of Middle East we want to see.”
She also said under questioning that the weapons plans should not been seen by autocratic US allies in the region as a sign that that American pressure for democratic reforms will cease:
“Of course it’s important that Egypt be able to defend itself and its interests in the region,” she said. “Of course it’s important that Saudi Arabia, which has been an ally of the United States for decades, be able to defend its interests in the region. And of course that’s important to the defense of American interests. But that does not preclude discussions about the domestic course these countries are taking. And we’re going to continue to have those discussions, and we are going to continue to press for reform.”
Rice and Gates flew separately to the region but will join up Tuesday in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, for meetings with senior officials of Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf Cooperation Council member countries. They both fly on to Jeddah later Tuesday to meet senior Saudi leaders, including King Abdullah.
Wednesday they part company, with Gates continuing talks in the Gulf while Rice heads to Jerusalem for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.