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US Says Spain-Venezuela Arms Deal Threatens Stability

13 January 2006

The Bush administration said Friday it blocked a planned sale of Spanish military aircraft to Venezuela because of possible harm to regional stability. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has condemned the U.S. move as an act of imperialism.

The United States had the authority to prevent Spain from transferring the aircraft to Venezuela, because they contained U.S. equipment or technology.

The State Department says the Bush administration moved to block the sale after an inter-agency review determined that it could contribute to destabilization in Latin America.

The veto under terms of 1976 U.S. Arms Export Control Act was confirmed by the U.S. embassy in Madrid Thursday.

Spain had contracted to sell Venezuela 12 transport and maritime surveillance planes as part of a $2 billion arms sales package, also including naval patrol vessels, that was signed in November.

Administration officials have not revealed what U.S. technology may have been in the aircraft, but Spanish and U.S. military systems are closely compatible, given that both countries are NATO members.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States denied export licenses to the Spanish companies involved, after determining that the sale was not consistent with U.S. foreign policy interests.

He would not elaborate on how the sale would have been destabilizing but said the decision was the product of an inter-agency U.S. review.

"This is a policy judgment of the United States government," he said. "These are things that are reviewed carefully with input from a variety of different agencies, from DOD, from the intelligence community, from the Department of State as well as other agencies around the government. But I think that when you're talking about armed patrol boats, maritime control aircraft, as well as other kinds of aircraft, it raises a lot of questions about their potential use and what effect that may have on the stability in the region."

The Bush administration has had a difficult relationship with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who it accuses of becoming increasingly autocratic and of undermining the country's democratic institutions.

Mr. Chavez responded angrily to the U.S. decision on the Spanish arms deal, describing it, in a speech to the country's National Assembly as an act of horrific imperialism.

The Spanish government says the military systems it contracted to provide Venezuela have no offensive character. Spain also says it intends to eventually go ahead with the transfer by substituting U.S.-made hardware with other technology.

In remarks here, Spokesman McCormack minimized any damage to U.S.-Spanish relations over the affair, saying the bilateral relationship is much broader and deeper than any particular military sale.

The spokesman said the United States has discussed its concerns about Venezuela's acquisitions with other Latin American countries, including Brazil.

Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said earlier this week there were signs the United States may seek to block a pending sale of Brazilian light combat and reconnaissance planes to Venezuela, and that his government would try to persuade U.S. officials not to veto the deal.

The planes, from the Brazilian aircraft builder Embraer, are also understood to include American technology. Amorim said the aircraft in question have no capability that would threaten U.S. security.

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