$20bln Saudi arms package to counter Iran: official

A 20 billion dollar US arms package for Saudi Arabia calls for missile defences, early warning systems, air power and naval systems to counter Iran, a senior US defence official said Monday.
The official who briefed reporters travelling with US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the package under consideration is worth at least 20 billion dollars for Saudi Arabia alone, and does not include arms for other Gulf states.
Saudi Arabia “may come in with at least that much, the others we don’t know yet,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Twenty billion is definitely a floor.”
Gates was on his way to the Middle East for an unusual joint visit to Egypt and Saudi Arabia with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rica to discuss Iran, Iraq and other regional issues.
The official would not discuss specific weapons that would be included in the package, but said it is grouped around four broad categories — air and missile defences; maritime systems; unconventional threats; and counter-proliferation.
“These are weapons that Saudi Arabia will be considering and will be needing over the next decade or so in order for them to meet their security needs as they confront Iran and other threats,” the official said.
The missile defence category also included early warning systems and air power, while the maritime systems were intended to strengthen Saudi Arabia’s eastern fleet, according to the official.
Unconventional threats had to do with “terrorism, hardening of the critical infrastructure, those kinds of security needs,” the official said.
Formal requests have been made for some elements of the arms package but not for the package as a whole, the official said.
“We don’t know where the region is coming in on this quite frankly,” the official added, referring to the Gulf states.
“As you know there are lot of countries that have indicated an interest in building their military capabilities but we don’t really have a figure for that yet.”
“And this is all sort of prospective as we look at sort of an integrated policy,” the official said.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2007