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Arens Wins U.S. Support from Cheney for Second Phase of Missile Project

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The United States will support the second phase of Israel’s development of the Arrow anti-tactical ballistic missile.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens announced the news Friday, after a three-hour meeting here with Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.

The Arrow, with a range of about 620 miles, is being designed to intercept and destroy Soviet-made Scud and SS-21 missiles in Syria and Iraq.

The missile, which is expected to be fully operational in five years, is a component of the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative, popularly known as “Star Wars.” Israel was invited to participate in the project by the Reagan administration.

Under the first phase of the project, which is expected to be completed next year, the United States funded 80 percent of the cost of the research, and Israel came up with the other 20 percent. The U.S. share amounted to $158 million.

The same 80-20 cost-sharing ratio is expected to be used in Phase 2 development, which will cost about $200 million.

Arens said other details about the program “have to be discussed,” but it is expected to run three to four years, the Washington weekly Defense News reported.

In Tel Aviv, sources at Israel Aircraft Industries disclosed that the first test flight of the missile would be carried out within the next two weeks.

When asked to confirm this, Israeli air force Cmdr. Avihu Bin-Nun said Friday that the two-week estimate was a “good assumption.”

JOINT MILITARY TALKS POSTPONED

Meanwhile, a new potential pinprick in the U.S.-Israel relationship developed Friday, when it was revealed that U.S. Secretary of State James Baker had postponed the annual meeting of the Joint Assistance Planning Committee, which was to have begun this Tuesday.

Arens did not mention the cancellation. But at the State Department, spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said the meeting, which would deal with U.S. military aid to Israel for the 1992 fiscal year, was postponed until September because the administration and Congress are presently engaged in a “budget summit.”

The negotiations could affect the military aid figure, presently a $1.8 billion grant, so the meeting was postponed “to give us more time to prepare,” Tutwiler said.

But she rejected a suggestion that some Israelis might view the postponement as an effort to pressure Israel to accept Baker’s proposals on the Middle East peace process.

“Absolutely, it’s not true,” Tutwiler declared. “United States-Israeli relations remain strong. Our commitment to Israel’s security and to the preservation of its qualitative (military) edge remains unshakable.”

Tutwiler also explained that at its annual meetings, the joint committee discusses further U.S.-Israel security interest programs, Israeli defense requirements, Israeli purchases of U.S. military equipment, cooperative research and development projects, technology transfers and any initiative either side wants to introduce.

Arens had asked for the meeting with Cheney right after he became defense minister in the Likud government led by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. But the meeting was not announced until the day before it was held.

Arens, who left for New York following the meeting, received a 19-gun salute, the “full-honors arrival” ceremony given for the first Pentagon visit by a new defense minister. Hundreds of U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marine Corps guards were on hand as the Army band played four ruffles and flourishes.

After Arens and Cheney arrived on the edge of the grassy pavilion and inspected the troops, the band played Hatikvah and the Star-Spangled Banner. The 19 cannon shots were blasted over the pavilion edge into the Potomac River.

Among the dignitaries welcoming Arens was Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who stood with the other chiefs of staff behind Arens and Cheney. Powell recently visited five countries in the Middle East, including Israel.

(JTA correspondents Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv and David Friedman in Washington contributed to this report.)

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