'US to expand aid, weapons programs in Mideast'

The Bush administration will ask Congress to expand multibillion-dollar aid and weapons sales packages to friendly nations in the Middle East, partly to counteract Iran, senior officials said Friday. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will announce proposed extensions and enlargements of foreign aid to Israel and Egypt, and a proposed arms sales package to Persian Gulf nations including Saudi Arabia, before she leaves on a trip to those nations Monday, the officials said. The Israeli and Egyptian proposals would lock in US commitments for the next 10 years. The total for Israel would rise from $2.4 billion to about $3 billion a year, and Egypt would continue to receive $1.3 billion a year. Those packages, like existing 10-year packages that expire next year, represent long-standing US commitments to Israel, its principal ally in the region, and Egypt as the first Arab nation to make peace with Israel and a moderate, secular ally and a traditional shepherd of Israeli-Arab peace efforts.