Mr.Brown goes to Washington, while US offers arms to bring Saudis into line
PRIME minister Gordon Brown flies into Washington with assurances that, whatever his aides have suggested, Britain under his government will stand loyally by US foreign policy and its wars - which is more than George W. Bush can say for his public at home.
Last year, Blair and Bush backed Israel's war in Lebanon, vetoing calls for ceasefire and stepping up munition supplies. This year, while Congress is prepared to talk about withdrawal from Iraq, our New Labour government rules it out. Forget wishful thinking. Labour's change of leadership is no more than a change of style.
Though the Middle East is likely to be high on the two leaders' agenda, we don't know whether Bush will remonstrate with Brown over the Blair government's decision to quash investigations into British Aerospace(BAe) bribery to secure its giant Saudi arms deal. This investigation is being taken up in the United States, ostensibly because a US bank was used to transfer money to a Saudi prince, more likely because BAe competitors remain disgruntled.
America itself is offering a huge deal to the Saudis, as it struggles to keep Middle East allies in line, and threatens war with Iran.
July 28, 2007
U.S. Set to Offer Huge Arms Deal to Saudi Arabia
By DAVID S. CLOUD
WASHINGTON, July 27 — The Bush administration is preparing to ask Congress to approve an arms sale package for Saudi Arabia and its neighbors that is expected to eventually total $20 billion at a time when some United States officials contend that the Saudis are playing a counterproductive role in Iraq.
The proposed package of advanced weaponry for Saudi Arabia, which includes advanced satellite-guided bombs, upgrades to its fighters and new naval vessels, has made Israel and some of its supporters in Congress nervous. Senior officials who described the package on Friday said they believed that the administration had resolved those concerns, in part by promising Israel $30.4 billion in military aid over the next decade, a significant increase over what Israel has received in the past 10 years.
But administration officials remained concerned that the size of the package and the advanced weaponry it contains, as well as broader concerns about Saudi Arabia’s role in Iraq, could prompt Saudi critics in Congress to oppose the package when Congress is formally notified about the deal this fall.
In talks about the package, the administration has not sought specific assurances from Saudi Arabia that it would be more supportive of the American effort in Iraq as a condition of receiving the arms package, the officials said.
The officials said the plan to bolster the militaries of Persian Gulf countries is part of an American strategy to contain the growing power of Iran in the region and to demonstrate that, no matter what happens in Iraq, Washington remains committed to its longtime Arab allies.
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M.Gates are visiting Saudi Arabia this week and are expected to press the Saudi rulers to help Iraq's pro-occupation, mainly Shi'ite government or at least stop undermining it.
America's former ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, has accused the Saudis of responsibility for fake documents circulated in Baghdad which aimed to tag Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki as an Iranian agent, and accused him of tipping off Shi'a cleric Moqtada al Sadr about a planned crackdown on his Mahdi army militia.
Some time ago, discussing how far US agents pursuing a divide and rule policy in Iraq were behind sectarian killings and bomb attacks, an Iraqi friend cautioned us to remember that "America does not have suicide bombers". It seemed a valid point to think about. But then I replied, "Maybe America hasn't, but the Saudis have". I was just guessing, but now it seems the US -and British - governments are saying it has got out of hand. According to the Guardian:
'Relations have been strained since King Abdullah unexpectedly criticised the US, describing the Iraq invasion as "an illegal foreign occupation"'
State department spokesman Sean McCormack, says only that Rice and Gates, on their trip to the region, "will be wanting more active, positive support for Iraq and the Iraqi people".
Khalilzad, who is now US ambassador to the UN, wrote in the New York Times last week: "Several of Iraq's neighbours - not only Syria and Iran but also some friends of the United States - are pursuing destabilising policies."
According to the Guardian 's Ewan MacAskill, "The Bush administration is also expressing its unhappiness with the Saudis for failing to stem the flow of Saudi jihadists across its border to fight in Iraq, often as suicide bombers. The US estimates that about 40% of the 60 to 80 foreign fighters entering Iraq each month are from Saudi Arabia".
US accuses Saudis of telling lies about Iraq
Although MacAskill also refers to concern about a US Israeli-Palestinian "peace plan", it was the Saudis who earlier this year put their name to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace plan based on Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, and Israel which rejected it as a "non-starter" because it included calling for a "fair solution" to the Palestinian refugee problem.
The Israelis are said to be concerned that Saudi Arabia is being offered satellite controlled weapons, which have been supplied to Israeli forces since the 1990s.
The arms offer to Saudi Arabia is being followed up with a promised $30.4 billion supply to Israel, $9.1 billion more than it received over the past ten years, an increase of nearly 43 percent. A US official said this was because Israel needed to replace equipment expended in its war in Lebanon, as well as to maintain its advantage in advanced weaponry over other countries. As for the sales to the Saudis and other Gulf States, US officials warned that the Saudis and others were in talks with suppliers other than the United States. If American supplies were blocked or tied with too many conditions, other suppliers might step in, and this would reduce American influence.
* Meanwhile in a possible bid to restore Britain's standing and ability to play a role in Palestine, Brown is reportedly to appoint Michael Williams as a Middle East peace envoy, distinct from Tony Blair's role as US-backed "quartet" envoy. Williams, a former BBC journalist who served as an adviser to Robin Cook and Jack Straw at the Foreign Office is currently working for UN secretary general Ban Kimoon.