Countering Middle East Totalitarian Axis: Gulf Region Arms Sales

Gulf Region Arms Sales Support Stability

U.S. Congress still must approve large weapon purchases

By Jacquelyn S. Porth
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on July 30 announced a military assistance program for Israel, Egypt and the member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, including Saudi Arabia, that is designed to enhance security and stability in the region.

"This effort will help bolster forces of moderation and support a broader strategy to counter the negative influences of al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran," Rice said in a prepared announcement.

Rice said that she and Defense Secretary Robert Gates will talk to officials from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations during a trip to the region that began July 30. The discussions will focus on what types of military hardware best would help them “secure peace and stability.”

Military assistance for the Gulf nations is part of a broad strategy to provide $30 billion to Israel and $13 billion to Egypt in the coming decade, Rice announced.

Rice said helping Egypt and Saudi Arabia modernize their armed forces and increase their ability to work together and with the United States “will bolster our partners’ resolve in confronting the threat of radicalism and cement their respective roles as regional leaders in the quest for Middle East peace and in ensuring Lebanon’s freedom and independence.”

Rice will meet in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, with the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council member countries (Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates) and Egypt and Jordan to discuss regional issues. Later, she will travel to Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah to continue talks on the development of a political resolution with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Rice and Gates, during their joint travel to the Gulf, will discuss the specifics of U.S. weapons systems that are being offered. In addition, Under Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns will travel to Israel and the region in mid-August for further talks on the specifics of the military assistance initiative.

The Bush administration still must submit large proposed arms sales packages to Congress for approval. Congress’s oversight authority to approve major arms sales derives from the 1976 Arms Export Control Act.

"We plan to consult closely with Congress and our allies on the specifics of these agreements," Rice said.

At a July 30 briefing, Burns said the security assistance initiative has three components –- expanded assistance to Israel over 10 years, new assistance to Egypt and new assistance to Saudi Arabia and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

"We wanted to send a strong signal of support for the security concerns of all of our partners in the region," Burns said. "And we see this announcement this morning about our future security assistance over the long term to support our broad strategic interest in the Middle East, and that is to maintain a very strong American presence and influence in the region."

Israel already was receiving military assistance in a 10-year program begun during the Clinton administration that amounted to about $2.4 billion yearly, Burns said. But under this expanded arrangement, that package will increase to $3 billion annually over 10 years, he said.

The 10-year assistance program for Egypt is new, he said, and will total $13 billion over a decade to strengthen Egypt's regional security role.

Burns also said Rice and Gates would begin talks with Saudi Arabia and the other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council to address their security needs.

"The majority of what we are planning with these countries are defensive systems, not offensive systems," Burns said. "We do not have a price tag and are not able to give you a number."

Burns said it may be another six weeks before a final list of sales is known to all of the countries.


Iran has posed an increasingly vexing problem for the international community not only for its pursuit of a nuclear weapons program, but also for its ongoing support of terrorism and efforts to subvert neighboring regimes.

Additionally, the overall sales are being presented as a way to provide a counterweight to Iran’s growing power in the Gulf.

"We are very much engaged diplomatically, of course, on the question of Iraq, but also on the effort to rebuff the attempt by Iran to advance its own strategic interest in the region and to expand its influence in the region," Burns said.

But Burns said Iran's intentions are not the only factors in this decision by the United States, but it is a serious part of the decisionmaking.

"And so Iran is a factor in this, but it wasn't the overriding factor and we certainly would have gone forward with these sales regardless," he said.

Burns added that this initiative is not a departure for the United States.

"We've had a security assistance relationship with most of these countries for decades –- for some of them since the very beginning of their existence as independent nation states," Burns said.

Administration consultations with Congress already are under way and are expected to continue, after an August recess, well into September.

The full text of Rice’s statement and a transcript of Burns’ remarks are available on the State Department Web site.


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