WASHINGTON (AP) _ Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday that a new multibillion dollar military sales package for Arab nations will help secure Iraq and promote stability in the Persian Gulf.
Embarking on a four-day tour of the region with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Rice said in a statement that the proposed U.S. package, estimated to be at least $5 billion and as high as $20 billion, ``will help bolster forces of moderation and support a broader strategy to counter the negative influences of al-Qaida, Hebollah, Syria, and Iran.''
``We are helping to strengthen the defensive capabilities of our partners and 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,'' she said.
The new sales to Arab countries, notably Saudi Arabia, would be counterbalanced with a more than 25 percent increase in military aid to Israel over the next 10 years, enabling the Jewish state to keep its military advantage over neighbors with whom 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 aid to Saudi Arabia and Gulf nations like Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, first disclosed by senior Bush administration officials on Friday, were not included in the statement.
Rice said that she and Gates, who leave for the Middle East later Monday, would be discussing the amounts with the governments concerned as well as Congress, which must approve the sales. She said that Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns would travel to the region in mid-August for follow-up talks.
On Sunday, Israel, which has long opposed plans to boost Arab militaries, said it understood the U.S. rationale.
The administration emphasized the Israeli and Egyptian aid packages in announcing the package Monday. Both the money for Egypt and Israel and the weapons sales must be aproved by Congress, where the money portion is not expected to encounter major objections. The weapons sales will be more controversial, and several key Democrats have alrady expressed reservations.
In 1986, congressional disapproval helped persuade the Reagan administration to cut back an arms package to Saudi Arabia.