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Baker Says U.S. Has No Evidence China Sold M-9 Missiles to Syria

The United States has no evidence that China has delivered surface-to-surface missiles to Syria, Secretary of State James Baker told a Senate panel on Wednesday.

Baker made the statement to the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on commerce, judiciary and state after Sen. Warren Rudman (R-N.H.) raised objections to any Chinese-Syrian deal for M-9 missiles.

Seth Carus, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank, said it is “not really clear at the moment whether there’s any evidence that an actual contract has been signed between these two countries.”

But he said confirmation of such a deal would take on a “heightened importance” because any M-9 delivery could take place in a relatively short time frame.

The Bush administration is concerned that medium-range missiles such as the M-9, which has a range of 375 miles, would destabilize the Middle East by increasing Syria’s ability to overcome Israel’s Patriot missile battery defense.

Syria currently has North Korean-made Scud-C missiles that have a similar range but are considered less effective than the M-9s against the Patriots.

Carus said that unlike the liquid-fuel Scud, the M-9 is a solid-fuel missile, a feature that provides “greater operational flexibility.”

In addition, the M-9 is believed to have a “significantly enhanced guidance system” giving it an accuracy of about 65 yards, versus half a mile for the Scud.

SAUDI SALE EXPECTED IN SEPTEMBER

Baker said U.S. concern over an M-9 sale was conveyed to China in a visit last month by Robert Kimmitt, undersecretary of state for political affairs.

He noted that China has agreed to participate in a conference next month in Paris of the five leading arms-supplying nations. The conference is expected to consider possible guidelines for limiting future arms transfers to the Middle East.

In his testimony to the Senate panel, Baker also defended recent U.S. decisions to store $700 million in arms in Israel and to sell 20 Apache helicopters — the Army’s most advanced attack helicopters — to the United Arab Emirates.

Prepositioning the arms in Israel, as well as an undisclosed amount in Saudi Arabia, would benefit the United States in the event of another conflict in the region, Baker argued.

“It’s just going to make it a lot easier for us if we ever had to do it again, to do it without shipping all of that stuff,” he said.

On Tuesday, Maj. Gen. Teddy Allen, director of the Pentagon’s Defense Security Assistance Agency, told a different Senate Appropriations subcommittee that the United States will propose a new arms sale package to Saudi Arabia in September.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the foreign aid appropriations subcommittee, told Allen: “I don’t know how this helps our credibility if we’re all willy-nilly doing arms sales around the Middle East.”

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