NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Bush administration is pushing through a wide range of foreign weapons deals in a bid to rearm Iraq and Afghanistan and contain North Korea and Iran, The New York Times reported.
The deals range from tanks, helicopters and fighter jets to missiles, remotely piloted aircraft and warships, the Times said in its Sunday editions. The weapons and other military equipment foreign sales have totaled more than $32 billion this year, compared with $12 billion in 2005.
While the focus has been on the Middle East, sales extend to northern Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and Canada, the Times said.
“This is not about being gunrunners,” the Times quoted Bruce Lemkin, the Air Force deputy undersecretary who has coordinated many of the largest sales, as saying. “This is about building a more secure world.”
In the past two years, Iraq has signed agreements worth more than $3 billion, and also said it planned to buy as much as $7 billion more in U.S. equipment, the Times said. Over the past three years, Washington, the world’s top arms supplier, had agreed to buy more than $10 billion in military equipment and weapons on behalf of Afghanistan, according to Defense Department records, the newspaper said.
Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Almarah Belk said such deals served the interests of Iraq and the United States because they cut the risk of corruption and helped Iraq “in getting around bottlenecks in their acquisition processes.”
Much of the rearmament in the Gulf has been driven by fears of Iran. The Times said the United Arab Emirates were considering U.S.-made missile defense systems worth as much as $16 billion, while Saudi Arabia had agreed this year to at least $6 billion in weapons purchases from Washington, the most since 1993, and Israel was increasing its orders.
U.S. allies in Asia have also been buying more U.S. equipment as North Korea conducts long-range missile tests. South Korea alone signed sales agreements this year worth $1.1 billion.
Rep. Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that while he backed many of the weapons sales such as those that helped Iraq defend itself, he worried the spike “could turn into a spiraling arms race that in the end could decrease stability,” the Times said.
The Times, citing Defense Department sales data through the end of August, reported that countries newly reliant on the United States as a primary major weapons source included Argentina, Brazil, India, Iraq, Morocco and Pakistan and former Soviet republics Azerbaijan and Georgia.
Together the countries signed $870 million worth of arms deals with the Bush administration from 2001 to 2004, but in the past four fiscal years the total had increased to $13.8 billion.
Editing by Peter Cooney