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U.S. military aid plans aimed against Iran - Russian experts

RIA Novosti

31/07/2007 17:43 MOSCOW, July 31 (RIA Novosti) - The Bush administration's plans to sell modern weaponry and increase military assistance to its allies in the Middle East are aimed at exerting pressure on Iran and strengthening the Republicans' positions on the domestic front, Russian experts said Tuesday.

The U.S. State Department announced Monday a new U.S. plan to sell some $20 billion in advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arab states over the next decade and to increase U.S. military aid to Israel by 25 percent, from an annual $2.4 billion at present to $3 billion a year, guaranteed for 10 years.

The U.S. officials also said President George W. Bush would seek congressional approval for $13 billion in additional military aid to Egypt, which currently receives $1.3 billion annually.

"The announced plans have apparently been prompted by a number of external and internal factors," said Alexander Shumilin, the director of a Moscow-based think tank on Middle East conflicts.

"The number one external factor is Washington's desire to signal its intentions to protect its allies in any confrontation with Tehran," the expert said, adding that the new initiative fit the general U.S. strategy of increasing pressure on Iran, which Washington considers a "rogue state."

Sergei Rogov, the director of the Institute of U.S. and Canadian Studies, said: "This move is certainly aimed at strengthening the military potential of the states that are threatened by Tehran and preventing Iran from becoming a regional superpower."

Rogov also said that Washington was attempting to improve its image among Arab states, which has been seriously damaged by decades of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a bloody war in Iraq.

"Arabs do not believe the U.S. can play the role of a fair broker," the expert said. "And the U.S. wants to create the impression that it is sincerely attempting to broker the Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement."

Speaking about the internal factors that prompted the new U.S. initiative, both experts agreed that the Bush administration was trying to strengthen its positions on the domestic political front, seriously undermined by its apparent failures in the bloody campaign in Iraq, which has already claimed the lives of at least 3,652 U.S. soldiers since March 2003.

"In view of a [domestic] political confrontation over Iraq, the Democrats are trying to crush the Bush administration," Shumilin said. "George Bush, in turn, is attempting to widen the scope of U.S. actions in the Middle East and use it as the evidence of his own success."

Legislation ordering U.S. troops out of Iraq has passed repeatedly in the House, which is dominated by Democrats, but has been rejected by the Senate whose Republican lawmakers have so far provided crucial support to Bush in stalling anti-war proposals.

"This initiative brings a certain relief to the confrontation between the U.S. administration and the Democrats-run Congress over the Iraq war," the expert said.

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