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Aspin Pledges to Work with Israel to Counter Threats in the Mideast

June 21, 1993
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Defense Secretary Les Aspin has pledged that the United States will work with Israel to counter any threats to the Jewish state both from Islamic fundamentalist violence and from the spread of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

“The Clinton administration is deeply committed to helping Israel cope with these dangers to increase the chance of peace,” Aspin told leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee here last week.

Viewed as a strong supporter of Israel, Aspin told the pro-Israel group’s executive committee that he looked forward to working toward a stronger U.S.-Israeli strategic partnership.

But the secretary warned that there were new challenges on the international scene, including in the Middle East.

Growing Islamic fundamentalism, Aspin said, and the “growing militancy and violence associated with religious extremists,” represent one new threat to Israel.

He also cited the search for long-range missiles being conducted by Syria, Libya and Iran. The three countries already have chemical and biological weapons, he noted.

“We cannot allow these deadly pursuits to continue,” Aspin said. “It should remain a top priority of U.S. and Israeli security planners to stop the spread of nuclear weapons in the region, deter their use and develop effective counter-measures.”

Aspin asked the AIPAC leaders a series of questions relating to the U.S.-Israeli security relationship, and said he looked forward to working with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to find answers to the questions.

The questions involved such issues as seeking to maintain Israel’s qualitative edge in the region, especially in light of growing pressures on American resources.

Aspin also expressed concern about Russian arms sales to Iran, which could be seen as one negative result of the economic turmoil in the former Soviet Union. “Those arms sales to Iran worry us a great deal,” he said.

The foreign aid bill passed by the House of Representatives last week includes langauge restricting U.S. aid to Russia if it continues selling arms to Iran.

In addition, Aspin discussed the current situation in Somalia, where U.N. peacekeeping forces, including U.S. forces, have been involved in military activities.

Aspin said the United States regrets any loss of life, but criticized Somalian strongman Mohamed Farah Aideed, the object of the recent U.N. military action.

“If Aideed has his way, the international peacekeeping and relief effort would pack up and go home, but Somalia would be further devastated. The world cannot let that happen,” Aspin said.

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