Iran criticizes U.S. arms deal with Saudi Arabia

TEHRAN, Iran &

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman today 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 an estimated $20 billion of 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.

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 U.S. 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.

Hosseini accused the U.S. today 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.

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.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to announce the proposed aid deals and a proposed arms sales package to Persian Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia, before she leaves on a trip to the Middle East today.

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