nicholas burns 298 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns is scheduled to arrive in Israel for a round of talks Wednesday, which are expected to focus on the US arms sale to Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states, and the new military aid package to Israel.
The US announced last month it intends to provide Israel with a 10-year military aid package worth $30 billion, Egypt with a $13b. military aid package, and that it was putting together a massive arms sale to Saudi Arabia and five other Persian Gulf states. Although there has been no official confirmation, press reports have said the deal would be worth close to $20b.
While Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel did not in principle object to the arms sale to the Saudis, and although AIPAC is not expected to actively oppose it, the deal has still not been presented to Congress. Officials involved in the issue said Burns would listen to Israeli concerns.
Olmert, at a cabinet meeting two weeks ago, said, "We understand the need of the United States to support the Arab moderate states and there is a need for a united front between the US and us regarding Iran."
Nevertheless, Israeli officials have been lobbying over the last few months for some restrictions on the proposed sale of Joint Direct Attack Munitions, which turn standard bombs into "smart" precision-guided bombs, that the US wants to include in the package to the Saudis.
Burns is scheduled to meet with Olmert, as well as Foreign Ministry and defense establishment officials.
An informed source said that while the military assistance to Israel and the sale to the Saudis were not linked, but rather part of an overall American package to the Middle East aimed at keeping Iran in check, "the deals are not closed yet. It is still not totally clear to Israel, the Americans and Congress exactly what we are talking about." The Burns visit, according to this source, is part of the process of "fleshing out the details."
In addition to the arms sale and aid package, Burns is also expected to follow up on conversations US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had when she was here last week, and to be briefed on the Olmert meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Monday.