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Arens Meets with U.S. Defense Chief, but Wins No Immediate Promise of Aid

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Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens met with Defense Secretary Dick Cheney on Monday, but received no concrete assurances on additional military aid for Israel.

“These meetings generally are not intended to provide assurances,” Arens told reporters after the 75-minute session at the Pentagon.

“They are the beginning of a discussion that eventually leads to agreement, and I hope that we have agreement,” he said.

Following the meeting, the Pentagon issued a statement saying the two men had discussed “Israel’s special security needs” in “general terms.”

It said Cheney had “reiterated the U.S. commitment to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge” in the Middle East.

Arens came to Washington seeking additional advanced weapons from the United States, following announcement of the Bush administration’s proposed massive arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

The administration plans to provide the Saudis with a $20 billion package that includes F-15 fighter planes, M1-A1 Abrams tanks, Apache anti-tank helicopters and Patriot surface-to-air missiles.

The proposal is expected to be sent this week to Congress, which will have 30 days to vote it down or let it go through automatically.

Sources on Capitol Hill said Israel’s supporters in Congress were hoping to persuade the administration to delay official notification, to give lawmakers more time to consider the package.

SAUDI SALE COULD BE ‘DESTABILIZING’

When asked if he was concerned about the Saudi sale, Arens told reporters, “I think a very large scale of advanced equipment to the Saudis without adequate compensation for Israel could upset the military balance in the area and would be destabilizing.”

In a speech Sunday to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Israeli defense chief suggested Israel has to work harder at producing its own weaponry. He said many of the advanced arms it now receives from the United States are now also provided to the Arab states.

Despite deep concern about the $20 billion Saudi sale among supporters of Israel, few predict a major battle in Congress to block it.

“I don’t think that there’s going to be a major fight across the board. The general disposition is to find other ways to offset the sale,” said Jess Hordes, Washington representative of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.

Hordes said the Saudi “megapackage” warranted “significant offsets” for Israel.

“As important as it is to ensure Saudi Arabia’s stability and security, we have to be discriminating in the ways we seek to strengthen Saudi Arabia, so as not to create additional instability in the region,” he said.

The sale could have “disastrous results in the region” if it eroded Israel’s qualitative edge over its Arab neighbors, he said. That edge “has served the United States well over the years” by deterring an Arab-Israeli war, he pointed out.

Arens met earlier Monday with Sens. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; David Boren (D-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence; and William Cohen (R-Maine), ranking Republican on the intelligence committee.

Late in the day, he met with Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser, and he was to dine Monday evening with members of Congress.

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