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U.S. Subsidizes Egypt Arms Sales

March 11, 1999

JERUSALEM (AP) _ The United States is helping Egypt begin a major military modernization, starting with $3.2 billion in subsidized arms sales announced by Defense Secretary William Cohen on a visit Thursday.

Cohen then flew to Jerusalem to pledge that Israel would keep its ``qualitative edge″ in safeguarding Israelis.

Egypt is asking to buy, with U.S. financial aid, 24 of the latest model F-16 fighters, a Patriot missile battery, and 200 new heavy tanks. Congressional approval is both required and expected.

The deal points to Clinton administration priorities of helping U.S. arms makers compete for lucrative foreign sales and strengthening moderate Mideast nations in the face of threats from Iran and Iraq. Cohen also framed it in terms of close U.S. ties to Egypt.

The Egyptians ``would take it as an insult″ if the U.S. refused to sell arms to them, Cohen said. ``They would see it as a breach of our friendship with them and they would seek another supplier.″

During his nine-country Mideast trip, which ends here, Cohen has negotiated arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. He said the United States would not refuse requests based on legitimate security concerns of friendly Mideast states.

``To the extent that Egypt feels it needs to modernize its military in order to protect its own self-defense, that’s a judgment that is made by a sovereign country,″ Cohen said after discussing the sale with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt will pay for the weapons over several years using the $1.2 billion it receives annually from the United States in military aid.

The secretary then traveled to Jerusalem for a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu.

Netanyahu has raised concerns before about weapons modernization in Egypt and other neighboring states. But with Cohen at his side, Netanyahu reminded reporters that Israel and Egypt have been at peace for more than two decades.

He noted that one provision of the 1979 Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt called for Egypt to buy weapons from Western suppliers instead of the Soviet Union.

Cohen assured the prime minister that the United States remained ``committed to Israel’s qualitative edge in military capability to protect its people.″

The military sales drew criticism in Washington from John Isaacs of the Council for a Livable World, an arms control advocacy group.

He said the administration does more than simply respond to requests for arms and sells ``weapons to almost whoever wants them, in almost any quantity″ in a ``tinderbox″ such as the Middle East.

The fighter jets, built by Lockheed Martin Corp. in Fort Worth, Texas, will add to Egypt’s existing force of 196 F-16s. The Pentagon proposes selling 24 of the most advanced version of the F-16, the Block 40, for $1.2 billion. The plans would be built over the next two to four years.

The sale substantially would expand Egypt’s armored capability, adding to the country’s 555 M1-A1 tanks. The new tanks will cost about $680 million and be assembled in Egypt from parts manufactured in the United States.

The $1.3 billion anti-missile system purchase is a first for Egypt. It involves the Patriot 3, built by Raytheon Co. of Lexington, Mass. Because this version of the Patriot still is under development, it will take several years to deliver, U.S. officials said.

The Clinton administration urged Egypt to buy the Patriot battery because of Iran’s improving medium-range ballistic missiles.

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