Israel apologizes to U.S. over China arms sale
By Megan Goldin
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel publicly apologized to the United States on Sunday over arms exports to China that have drawn criticism from Washington and strained U.S.-Israeli security ties.
"It is impossible to hide the crisis between Israel and the United States with regard to the security industries. We are doing everything possible to put it behind us," Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said on Israel Radio.
The dispute centers on Israel's sale of Harpy attack drones and other advanced technology to China that the Pentagon fears could tilt the balance of power and make it difficult to defend Taiwan, which Beijing deems a renegade province.
"If things were done that were not acceptable to the Americans then we are sorry but these things were done with the utmost innocence," Shalom said in comments that coincided with a visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
"The United States is our biggest ally and none of the things that were done were done with the intention of harming U.S. interests," Shalom added.
The dispute has strained security ties between Israel and the United States, its main ally and provider of about $2 billion in annual defense aid, at a time when it seeks U.S. assistance to help implement its planned withdrawal from Gaza.
Commenting on the arms dispute ahead of her trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories, Rice said Israel should be "sensitive" to U.S. concerns on arms sales to China particularly given its close defense cooperation with Washington.
"We have had some very difficult discussions with the Israelis about this. I think they understand now the seriousness of the matter and we'll continue to have those discussions," Rice said.
An Israeli official is negotiating an agreement which would likely enable the United States to supervise Israeli arms sales to countries that Washington deems problematic, including China and India.
Washington torpedoed Israel's multi-billion dollar sale of Phalcon strategic airborne radar systems to China in 2000, citing concerns it could upset the regional balance of power.
U.S. displeasure over the Harpy deal played a role in a decision in April to suspend Israel from involvement in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project.
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