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Tuesday, 29 October, 2002, 15:50 GMT
Jordan to receive UK tanks
Tony Blair and King Abdullah
Ties between the UK and Jordan are 'long and strong'
MPs have reacted with anger at news that the UK has given up to 400 tanks to Jordan at a time when there is a prospect of military action against its neighbour Iraq.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon approved the gift of 100 surplus Challenger tanks after a request by King Abdullah of Jordan.

There is no connection with the issue of Iraq

MoD spokesman
The donation follows an earlier deal for 288 tanks which was brokered in 1999 to help Jordan modernise its army.

But Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs' spokesman, questioned why the second part of the agreement had been reached while Parliament was in recess.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman insisted that the tanks were of no use to the UK and had been destined for the scrapyard.

'Economic difficulties'

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon had to make a quick decision about the gift to save money and to give the army works organisation enough time to make the tanks ready for service, the spokesman told BBC News Online.

"There is no connection with the issue of Iraq. The original agreement was in 1999. Subsequent to this there was a request for additional tanks from King Abdullah.

"The agreement is in recognition of Jordan's economic difficulties.

"Jordan is an important ally in the region. We have strong and long ties with Jordan.

Challenger tank
Challenger tanks were used during the Gulf War
"The tanks are surplus to our needs - they are scrap value to us.

"The transfer programme is being carried out at minimal cost to Jordan."

The spokesman said a note about the gift was left in the House of Commons library by the MoD.

Saving money

"Geoff Hoon approved the donation just before the summer recess. We did need an early decision for the army workshops organisation which was preparing the tanks for disposal.

"They were carrying on work from the first batch. Any delays in carrying forward this work would have meant additional cost to the MOD and to taxpayers."

The MoD note is reported to say: "In the interests of making the most efficient use of public funds, it was particularly desirable for parliamentary clearance to be achieved by the middle of October.

"Early clearance would help to maximise workshop efficiency by allowing transition, without a break, to the preparation of the proposed package of Challenger Is after the preparation of the first batch of 288 tanks was completed in the third week of October."

The document stresses: "The department apologises that it did not prove possible to offer MPs 14 sitting days' notice."

'Lame excuses'

But this argument did not wash with Menzies Campbell.

"This is a particularly weak explanation for not telling Parliament," he said.

"I will be writing to the Foreign Secretary to get his assessment of the impact these extra tanks will have on the present Middle East situation."

Labour's Ann Clwyd added: "This is outrageous. Here we have a case where Parliament was supposed to be consulted on this gift and they provide lame excuses why they didn't."

King Abdullah of Jordan has insisted that a US-led war on Iraq is not inevitable - but Jordan would take steps to protect itself in the event of a conflict.

See also:

29 Oct 02 | Middle East
29 Jul 02 | Middle East
15 Mar 99 | Europe
02 Nov 01 | Middle East
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