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U.S. Won’t Ask Saudis to Dismantle Missiles Before Receiving New Arms

Israel and Saudi Arabia came under fire from a senior State Department official this week, who criticized them for “destabilizing” the Middle East by acquiring advanced missile capabilities.

But the official, Richard Clarke, told Congress that it would be wrong for the United States to require either country to destroy missiles as a condition for receiving U.S. arms shipments.

Clarke, who is assistant secretary of state for politico-military affairs, was asked about such linkage during a hearing on the Bush administration’s proposed $3.1 billion sale of 315 M1-A2 Abrams tanks to Saudi Arabia, which would also receive support equipment and training services.

Clarke said that Saudi acquisition of Chinese CSS-2 missiles last year was “destabilizing,” but added, “It would be more destabilizing to the Middle East if the United States terminated its military relationship with Saudi Arabia.”

He said that any U.S. conditioning of the sale would lead the Saudis to “simply go else-where” for weapons.

Clarke did not directly comment on media reports that Israel has supplied South Africa with advanced missile technology, in exchange for a steady supply of South African uranium. But he noted Israel’s procurement of Jericho I and Jericho II missiles.

He argued that if the United States curtailed arms sales to Israel until it destroyed the missiles, then “I am afraid we would be reducing the very military edge that we would want to keep” for Israel.

AJPAC UNLIKELY TO FIGHT SALE

While lawmakers grilled Clarke and other U.S. officials about the proposed sale to Saudi Arabia, none said he would try to block it.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has not yet decided whether to fight the sale, said a source at the pro-Israel lobby.

But it is not expected to campaign actively against the sale, in order to save its muscle for a possible fight against an anticipated U.S. proposal to sell F-18 or F-16 fighter planes to Saudi Arabia in 1990.

Clarke tried to reassure lawmakers that Israel’s military edge over its Arab neighbors is not being eroded, and that “there is not a major weapons system which the Israelis have had in their five-year (procurement) plan that they have been unable to procure.”

He said that the administration would seek money from Congress for any Israeli weapons system that the United States felt was necessary, if Israel could not fund it.

“We think they are adequately funded today,” he added.

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