Iran: U.S.-Saudi Arms Deal Dangerous

In this photo released by Saudi News Agency, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia, right, greets U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice before their meeting in Riyadh, Monday, Jan. 15, 2007. Hoping to breathe life into moribund peace efforts, the United States will gather Israeli and Palestinian leaders to discuss an eventual independent Palestinian state, President Bush 's top diplomat said Monday. (AP Photo/HO, Saudi News Agency) AP/Saudi News Agency

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman on Monday criticized a U.S. plan to sell state-of-the-art weapons to Saudi Arabia, saying it would undermine security in the Middle East, the state broadcasting company reported.

Mohammad Ali Hosseini's comments followed reports last week that the U.S. planned to sell Saudi Arabia billions of dollars in sophisticated weaponry, including advanced air systems that would greatly enhance the striking ability of Saudi warplanes.

"What the Persian Gulf region needs is stability and security," Hosseini was quoted as saying on the Web site of the state broadcasting company. "Americans have been trying to disturb it by selling weapons to the region."

Administration officials have also said the U.S. will extend additional aid to other friendly nations in the Middle East, including Israel and Egypt.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday that the new multibillion dollar U.S. military sales package for Arab nations will help secure Iraq and promote stability in the Gulf.

Embarking on a four-day tour of the region with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Rice said in a statement that the proposed U.S. package, estimated to be at least $5 billion and as high as $20 billion, "will help bolster forces of moderation and support a broader strategy to counter the negative influences of al Qaeda, Hebollah, Syria, and Iran."

"We are helping to strengthen the defensive capabilities of our partners and we plan to initiate discussions with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states on a proposed package of military technologies that will help support their ability to secure peace and stability in the Gulf region," she said.

The proposed weapons sales and aid packages are intended to strengthen U.S. allies at a time of uncertainty in the Middle East, officials have said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press. They also help counteract Iran's rising influence in the region.

The United States accuses Iran of developing nuclear weapons and supporting Shiite militias in Iraq, charges Tehran denies. The Sunni-led governments of the Middle East are also wary of Shiite Iran's growing power, and Israel views the country as its principal enemy.

Contradicting a message given by his boss only days ago, Hosseini also said Monday that higher level talks with the U.S. on security in Iraq were not necessary.

"There is no need for upgrading the level of talks between Iran and the U.S. over Iraq," IRNA quoted Hosseini as saying. "Such an offer has not been proposed by Iran."

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said last week after a meeting between the two countries' ambassadors to Iraq that Tehran was open to the idea of more senior level discussions.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said last week there would be no request from Washington for higher-level talks following the meeting between U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Iranian Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qomi in Baghdad.

Hosseini accused the U.S. on Monday of inflaming tensions in the region to further its weapons sales.

"Americans have pursued a particular policy in the region: creation of fear and concern among regional countries in order to prepare an opportunity for selling arms," he was quoted as saying.

Terrorism expert Sajjan Gohel recently told CBS News the Saudi arms sale might not be a good idea. "Weapons would be sold to a regime that is not only despotic but is also trying to undermine democracy in Iraq by assisting Sunni insurgent groups," he said.

"It shows that the Bush administration isn't looking really at the long-term, but seems to be more concerned about trying to secure oil reserves and deposits in Saudi Arabia than actually protecting their own soldiers in Iraq," Gohel said.

The Israeli and Egyptian proposals would lock in U.S. aid commitments for the next 10 years. The total for Israel would rise from $2.4 billion to about $3 billion a year, and Egypt would continue to receive $1.3 billion a year.

On Sunday, Israel, which has long opposed plans to boost Arab militaries, said it understood the U.S. rationale.

  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.

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