Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bush Mideast Arms-Control Plan Hit by Critics Detractors Point to Recent US Sales in Area, Loopholes That Could Render Restraints Useless

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bush Mideast Arms-Control Plan Hit by Critics Detractors Point to Recent US Sales in Area, Loopholes That Could Render Restraints Useless

Article excerpt

IN the week since President Bush announced an arms-reduction plan for the Middle East, his administration has announced several new United States military sales to the region - immediate evidence of just how difficult implementation will be for the plan's US sponsor, critics say.

Calling the Bush plan long on rhetoric and short on detail, they charge that the US, instead of initiating restraint, is caught in an arms-sales spiral.

The key element of the president's plan, announced May 29, would require the five largest arms suppliers - the US, Britain, China, France, and the Soviet Union - to notify one another in advance of certain conventional arms sales that could prove "destabilizing."

Mr. Bush has asked representatives from the five to meet in Paris later this month to discuss the proposed restraints. His plan also included a provision, however, that supported weapons sales to meet the "legitimate need of every state to defend itself."

In the last seven days, the administration has been more active selling arms than building a consensus to limit them, say critics, who expect little progress from the Paris meeting. "It's a mistake to go through another round of arms sales," says Alan Platt, an international security specialist who was chief of the arms transfer division of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in the Carter administration.

Continuing US sales to the region only undermine Washington's efforts to win international support for something the US itself does not subscribe to, he says.

A senior Pentagon official announced on Tuesday that 20 Apache attack helicopters will be sold to the United Arab Emirates and six to Bahrain. Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney, who last week pledged to supply Israel with 10 F-15 fighter planes and to pay $200 million into the next phase of developing Israel's Arrow missile defense system, denied that the sales contradict Bush's plan to reduce arms sales to the Middle East.

Other deals are pending, such as the sale of several hundred M1-A2 tanks to Saudi Arabia. Mr. Platt says that US officials now in "Saudi Arabia to put together a shopping list of Saudi needs" will likely return with a large order.

Mr. Cheney says halting US military sales to the Middle East "would be unwise policy."

Seth Carus, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says "several parts of the overall proposal - like tightening the biological weapons convention and enhancing existing export controls on missiles - are a given, with or without the Bush plan. …

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