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Last Updated: Saturday, 28 July 2007, 23:34 GMT 00:34 UK
US 'plans huge Saudi arms deal'
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates (file image from 29/06/2007)
Robert Gates is said to be preparing to discuss the plans in Saudi Arabia
The United States is reported to be preparing a major arms deal with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states worth $20bn (9.8bn) over the next decade.

Defence officials quoted by US media said the sales would include advanced weaponry, missile guidance systems, upgraded fighter jets and naval ships.

It is said to be an attempt to counter the regional threat posed by Iran.

The officials said the secretaries of state and defence would discuss the deal on a visit to the Gulf next week.

However, discussions with Congress on the arms package have just begun, and no announcements are expected during the visit, the officials added.

Israeli 'concern'

On Saturday, the New York Times and the Washington Post quoted unnamed senior US officials as saying the Bush administration was preparing to an arms sale package for a number of US allies in the Gulf.

The proposed deal for Saudi Arabia reportedly includes air-to-air missiles, advanced precision-guided bombs, upgrades to its fighters and new naval vessels.

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
US State Department official

To counter objections by Israel and its supporters in Congress, the officials said the Jewish state would be offered significantly increased military aid.

The White House is also said to be concerned that the package may prompt critics of the Saudi government in Congress to oppose it because of concerns about the kingdom's influence in Iraq.

Other US allies in the Gulf - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates - could receive equipment and weaponry as part of the deal, the officials said

The officials said the arms deal aimed to bolster the militaries of the Sunni Arab states as part of a strategy to counter what it sees as a growing threat posed by Iran in the region.

"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," a senior State Department official told the New York Times on Friday.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates is said to be planning to discuss the proposals in a visit to Saudi Arabia next week with the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.

Officials said Mr Gates would also reassure the Saudis that his country's commitment to the region remained steadfast regardless of what happens in Iraq in the short term.

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