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Rice: U.S. military deals with Mideast promote stability

  • Story Highlights
  • Rice: New arms and military assistance to Mideast will counter terrorism
  • Secretary of State Rice, Secretary of Defense Gates to visit Mideast region
  • Deals involve Israel, Egypt and the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia
  • Official: U.S. developing a $20 billion, 10-year arms deal for Saudi Arabia
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States is cutting new arms and military assistance deals with Middle Eastern countries in an effort to counter terrorism and improve stability in the region, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday.

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Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, left, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit the Mideast region.

Rice, who made the announcement in advance of her visit to the region with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, described the sales as "a renewed commitment to the security of our key strategic partners in the region."

In a written statement, Rice said the agreements involve Israel, Egypt and the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia.

"This effort 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 and Gates' itinerary includes stops in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where they are to meet with their counterparts "to discuss ways to advance security and stability in Iraq," Rice said.

They also plan to meet with the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Egypt and Jordan, to discuss regional issues in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Rice will then travel to Jerusalem and Ramallah on the West Bank "to continue discussions on the development of a political horizon with Israeli and Palestinian officials."

Rice said the "Gulf Security Dialogue" will help strengthen the countries' defense capabilities.

In addition, "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.

Rice said the United States will also move to conclude a 10-year, $30 billion military assistance agreement with Israel.

President Bush cited the announcement recently during Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's visit to Washington.

Discussions are also beginning with Egyptian government officials on a 10-year, $13 billion military assistance agreement, Rice said. "We plan to consult closely with Congress and our allies on the specifics of these agreements."

Under Secretary Nicholas Burns will travel to Israel and the region next month to finalize the agreements, then give Congress a proposed list of sales in September.

"We want to make sure countries can protect their own borders," he told reporters. "The majority of what we are planning are defensive systems and not offensive."

He said uncertainty over the needs of the countries involved make it impossible to put a dollar figure on the overall deal.

Burns said the sales to Saudi Arabia are in the U.S. interest because they serve to keep stability in the region.

During his weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Olmert said Monday that, under the proposed deal, military aid to Israel from the United States would grow by 25 percent over the coming decade.

"It will enable us to significantly strengthen the security establishment and to develop measures and systems that will provide responses to the threats we will face in the next decade," he said.

He added that the U.S. military aid to moderate Arab countries is being given on the precondition that the weapons will not be used against Israel.

News of the deal with Saudi Arabia broke last week in The New York Times.

On Saturday, a senior administration official confirmed to CNN that the United States is developing a $20 billion, 10-year arms sales package for Saudi Arabia aimed at giving the Saudi military an upgraded capability to counter Iranian aggression in the Persian Gulf region.

"This is all about Iran," said the official, who noted that the Bush administration is mindful at the same time that Israel must maintain its "qualitative edge" in the region.

Besides Saudi Arabia, other countries in discussion with the United States about arms sales include the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, the official said.

One of the more controversial proposals will probably be selling the Saudis, for the first time, satellite-guided bombs known as JDAMs. The sale may include a 500-pound and a 2,000-pound version of the aerial bomb.

The Israelis are said to be very concerned about the Saudis having that precision-strike capability, so the United States will discuss basing the weapons as far away from Israel as possible, the official said.

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Other elements under discussion are new naval vessels, an advanced version of air-to-air missiles already used by the United States, and advanced Patriot missiles.

Any sale would have to be approved by Congress. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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