Czechoslovakia Will Sell Tanks to Syria, Minister Says
May. 08, 1991
PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia (AP) _ The government will sell tanks to Syria unless the United States provides financial aid to convert Czechoslovakia's arms factories to peaceful uses, a minister said today.
On Monday, the United States asked President Vaclav Havel's government not to sell weapons to Middle East countries that U.S. officials accuse of sponsoring terrorism.
''I think that a decision about the export of our tanks worth $200 million to Syria has been taken with final validity,'' Foreign Trade Minister Jozef Baksay was quoted as saying.
Baksay, who was quoted by the official CTK news agency, did not say how many tanks were involved in the deal. But earlier media reports indicated more than 100 tanks could be exported.
''We could give up this deal only in case of considerable financial assistance from the United States in converting our military industry,'' Baksay was quoted as saying.
The tanks involved in the deal with Syria are modern, Soviet-designed T- 72s. Reports have said Czechoslovakia also had been negotiating a possible deal with Iran.
About 80,000 skilled workers could be laid off following conversion of Czechoslovakia's arms industry, especially in Slovakia, the republic making up the country's eastern and less-industrialized third.
Czechoslovakia says it needs the money from selling already manufactured weapons to convert its arms factories to peaceful uses. Baksay reiterated that his country only was interested in selling what it already has manufactured.
The Central European country was a major arms manufacturer and exporter under Communist rule. But after the November 1989 anti-Communist revolution, Havel's government pledged to get out of the arms business.
Baksay was quoted as saying that Syria already owes Czechoslovakia $1.1 billion, of which $917 million is overdue. He said the tank sale is the first step in talks about Syria's debt.
On Monday, the U.S. ambassador to Prague, Shirley Temple Black, protested to the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry over the deal with Syria and a possible sale to Iran.
Israel, which hosted a visit by Premier Marian Calfa over the weekend, also asked Czechoslovakia not to go ahead with it.
Both Syria and Iran are on a list of countries that the United States believes sponsor terrorism.
Calfa, upon his arrival from Israel, told CTK he did not expect the deal with Syria would jeopardize Czechoslovakia's relations with the United States.
''The United States is also big exporter of arms,'' CTK quoted him as saying. ''I understand their concern about the Czechoslovak export, but they should be equally concerned about the fate of people who have no other job than in our arms factories.''
According to presidential spokesman Michael Zantovsky, no decision has been made yet on the deal with Iran.