The Bush administration is preparing to ask Congress to approve arms sales totaling $20 billion over the next decade for Saudi Arabia and its neighbors, The New York Times reported on Saturday.
Coming as some US officials contend that the Saudi government is not helping the situation in Iraq, the proposal for advanced weapons for Saudi Arabia has stoked concern in Israel and among its US backers, the Times said. The package of advanced weaponry includes advanced satellite-guided bombs, upgrades for its fighters and new naval vessels.
Senior officials, including State Department and Pentagon officials who outlined the deals' terms, told the Times they thought the Bush administration had resolved those concerns, partly by offering Israel more than $30 billion in military aid over the next 10 years, which would be a significant increase over recent levels.
Administration officials remain concerned, however, that the package could draw opposition from Saudi critics in Congress, which is to be notified formally about the deal this autumn, the newspaper said.
The State Department and the White House had no comment on the Times' article, and a Pentagon spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.
Assurances from the Saudis about being more supportive in Iraq were not sought by the administration as part of the deal, US officials told the newspaper.
The Times said officials described the plan as intended to bolster Gulf countries' militaries in a bid to contain Iran's growing strength in the region, as well as to demonstrate Washington's commitment to its Arab allies.
But they added that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defence Secretary Robert Gates still plan to use their joint visit to Saudi Arabia next week to press for help with Iraq's government.
"The role of the Sunni Arab neighbours is to send a positive, affirmative message to moderates in Iraq in government that the neighbours are with you," the newspaper quoted a senior State Department official as saying.
The official added that Washington wants Gulf states to stress to Sunnis that engaging in violence is "killing your future."
Other salves to Israel in light of the proposed deal include asking the Saudis to accept restrictions on the range, size and location of the satellite-guided bombs, the Times said. The Pentagon is also asking for a commitment not to store the weapons at air bases close to Israeli territory, it added.
Along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are likely to receive equipment and weaponry from the arms sales under consideration, the Times said.