Israel, U.S. Discuss Israeli Weapons Deals
By BARRY SCHWEID, AP Diplomatic Writer
WASHINGTON - Israeli and U.S. delegations began two days of talks Monday designed to guide future Israeli weapons deals with other nations and ease the strain they sometimes cause in an otherwise friendly relationship.
The talks focused, in part, on Israel's planned sale to China of spare parts for Harpy armed drone aircraft. The Bush administration objects on grounds it would upgrade China's anti-radar aircraft.
Without providing any details of the talks, Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon said the guidelines being prepared would be "mindful of U.S. concerns."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said this month at a news conference in Washington that China must not be allowed to undertake a "major military escalation" and that Israel "has a responsibility to be sensitive" to U.S. concerns.
Later, she registered her concerns to Israeli officials in Jerusalem. "The Israelis now understand our concerns," she told reporters, "and I'm certain that as good partners can, that we can come to some resolution."
On Monday, China complained about outside interference in its relations with Israel after reports that Israel was calling off the arms deal under U.S. pressure.
A statement by China's foreign ministry said development of relations with Israel "will not harm the interests of any third party" and that "other countries should not make unreasonable remarks regarding this."
State-owned Israel Aircraft Industries sold Harpy drones to China in the early 1990s, before Israel agreed under U.S. pressure to stop transfer of weapons technology to China.
If there had been an agreement between Israel and the United States, the current dispute could have been avoided, Ayalon said in responding to questions after a speech to The Israel Project, a private group committed to Israel's security.
"We have made great progress" on the agreement, the ambassador said, and he hoped it would be completed soon.
The State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said discussions are ongoing and that the Pentagon is "the lead agent."
He declined to predict the outcome, while suggesting differences were being narrowed. "There are still some matters under discussion between the Israel government and the U.S. government," McCormack said.
The Israeli delegation is headed by Zvi Stauber, a former Israeli ambassador who heads a strategic think tank in Tel Aviv and was an aide to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
A second Israeli delegation also holding talks is led by a reserve Israeli major general, Herzl Bodingur.
The talks are being held at the Pentagon. Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz is expected to visit Washington next month to wrap up the deal.
While the agreement is likely to impose constraints on Israel's advanced industry, the Bush administration is expected to take a conciliatory tone, saying the United States objects not to competition with U.S. industry but to certain sales of strategic material.
It also might set precedent and designate Israel as a strategic partner of the United States, with the two sides considerate of each others' concerns. That could imply some restraints on U.S. arms sales to Arab countries.
Five years ago, the United States applied pressure on Israel, forcing cancellation of plans to sell Phalcon reconnaissance aircraft to China. The deal was estimated to be worth $1 billion to $2 billion.
The 100 Harpy drones were sold to China in the late 1990s.
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