U.S. to South Africa: Arms sale to Syria will imperil foreign aid

WASHINGTON, Jan. 14 (JTA) — If South Africa sells advanced tank weapons to Syria, it will risk losing U.S. foreign aid, officials here said this week. The planned $650 million sale of tank-firing systems elicited attacks from the White House and State Department, which cited U.S. law mandating a cut in foreign aid to countries that sell weapons to terrorist states. Syria is one of seven countries designated by the State Department as state sponsors of terrorism. Israeli officials fear that the weapons will give Syrian tank gunners greater accuracy. The weapons, which South Africa reportedly crafted with the help of Israeli technology, will also give Syria greater night-fighting capabilities. “It would be extremely serious if these sales actually occurred,” said Nicholas Burns, State Department spokesman. “It’s a matter of very serious concern.” Vice President Gore is expected to raise the matter in meetings this month with South African officials. “This is on the top of our agenda with South Africa now,” Burns said. White House spokesman Michael McCurry added, “We urge the government of South Africa not to go through with the sale, and we have confidence that the government of South Africa understands the seriousness of this issue.” South Africa received about $82 million in U.S. aid last year. In response to growing American criticism, South African President Nelson Mandela’s spokesman told the Associated Press this week that the United States “is not going to dictate to us.” “What we find particularly insulting is for someone to hold a gun to our head and tell us what to do,” Parks Mankahlana said. In response, Burns said Tuesday, “No one was putting a gun to anyone’s head.” The South African Cabinet approved the sale last month. Deputy President Thebo Mbeki is reportedly studying the matter. A final decision is expected later this month.

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