A multi-billion dollar US arms package for Middle East allies aimed at containing Iran's influence will not destabilise the region, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday.
The weapons packages bound for Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states and Israel would not tilt the fragile military and strategic balance in the oil-rich region, said Rice.
She dismissed Iran's charges that the arms package would create fear and dampen relations between countries in the Middle East, turning the accusation back on Tehran.
"I think if there is a destabilisation of the region, that can be laid at the feet of an Iranian regime that is engaging in the kind of activities that I just outlined," she told reporters aboard a plane taking her to Egypt.
Earlier, she had accused Iran of fuelling terrorism in Lebanon; backing and providing technologies to Shiite militias in Iraq; aiding Hamas in the Palestinian territories; and harbouring ambitions of acquiring nuclear weapons.
"It's a very serious set of challenges," Rice said, before her plane stopped over at Shannon airport on the way to the region.
"There isn't a doubt, I think, that Iran constitutes the single-most important single-country strategic challenge to the US's interests in the Middle East -- and to the kind of Middle East we want to see."
The United States announced Monday new military pacts worth $20 billion for Saudi Arabia, $13 billion for Egypt and $30 billion for Israel in a bid to counter Iran.
'US spreading fear in region'
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said reports of the deal showed the United States was bent on "spreading fear" in the Middle East to generate better sales for its weapons and munitions.
"The United States has always had a special policy of spreading fear in the region and tarnishing existing good relations" between countries in the Middle East, Hosseini said.
The package for Saudi Arabia calls for missile defenses, early-warning systems, air power and naval systems to counter Iran, said a senior US defense official briefing reporters traveling with Defence Secretary Robert Gates. Gates was also travelling to the region on a separate plane.
It was a rare joint trip to the region for Rice and Gates.
Rice said before leaving that the United States had agreed a new 10-year pact to bolster Egypt's capacity to address shared strategic goals.
The pact with Israel over 10 years which hikes the value of US military assistance to the state by $600 million a year on average, would soon be concluded, she added.
Washington was determined to maintain the military and strategic balance within the region, she said.
Despite some concerns in the US Congress over the military packages, the chief US diplomat said the Bush administration could convince lawmakers that "we know how to maintain our obligations in terms of accountability."
"We know how to be aware of and responsive to everyone's concern that there not be any shift in the military balance between the parties in the region," she said. "That's extremely important and we have it very much in mind."