Washington: The United States announced new military pacts worth $20 billion for Saudi Arabia, $13 billion for Egypt and $30 billion for Israel 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 defence Robert Gates left Washington for 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.
The $20 billion arms package for Saudi Arabia calls for missile defences, early warning systems, air power and naval systems to counter Iran, said a senior US defence official briefing reporters travelling with Gates.
US media had reported that Washington was considering arms deals worth $20 billion for the Saudis and five other Gulf states, but the figure discussed by the defence official was only for Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia “may come in with at least that much, the others we don’t know yet,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Twenty billion is definitely a floor.”
The official would not discuss specific weapons that would be included in the package.
Rice said before leaving that the United States had agreed a new 10-year, 13-billion pact to bolster Egypt’s capacity to address shared strategic goals.
Rice and Gates flew on separate airplanes to the Middle East.
A new $30 billion 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 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.
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.