TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran’s Foreign Ministry accused the United States on Monday of seeking to create fear and divisions in the Middle East after reports Washington was readying major arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
A U.S. defense official said in Washington on Saturday the package could be worth some $20 billion over the next 10 years.
Washington is striving to assure its Gulf allies concerned by the growing strength of Shi’ite Muslim Iran and the war in Iraq that it is committed to the region and will stand by them, with arms sales being part of that process, U.S. officials say.
Iranian defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said the United States was trying to “create a fake arms race in order to make their big arms companies survive”, the official IRNA news agency reported.
But he also said countries had the right to buy or make arms to boost their defenses, and suggested military purchases by its Gulf neighbors would not worry the Islamic Republic.
“Iran has no concerns about the strengthening of the defensive capabilities of (other) ... Islamic countries and regards their defensive capabilities as part of the capabilities of the Islamic world,” Najjar told reporters, according to IRNA.
Iran has in the past threatened to hit back at U.S. regional interests if it is attacked over its disputed nuclear program, which major powers suspect is aimed at making atom bombs.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman noted the reports of the Saudi arms deal came ahead of a joint trip to the Sunni Arab nation and other Middle Eastern countries by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates this week.
“America has always considered one policy in this region and that is creating fear and concerns in the countries of the region and trying to harm the good relations between these countries,” Mohammad Ali Hosseini told a regular press briefing.
Oil-rich Iran rejects Western allegations it wants to build atomic weapons, saying its nuclear program is peaceful.
Washington also accuses Iran of fomenting instability in Iraq. Tehran blames the U.S. presence for the violence in Iraq.
The senior U.S. defense official said the administration hoped to present the planned Gulf arms deal to the U.S. Congress for approval in the fall.
The Saudi package would upgrade its missile defenses and air force and increase its naval capabilities, the official said. It would also cover other U.S. allies in the Gulf.
The United States has sought to allay Israeli concerns about the forthcoming package. The senior U.S. defense official said Washington was working on a military assistance deal for Israel expected to top $30 billion during the next decade, a significant increase over current levels.
Najjar, the Iranian defense minister, said: “In selling arms to the countries of the region, the Americans always act in a way that preserves the military superiority of the Zionist regime (Israel).”