JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert voiced satisfaction on Sunday
over Washington's intention to offset a package of arms sales to Saudi Arabia
and other Gulf states with increased military aid for Israel.
He said he and U.S. President George W. Bush, in talks at the White
House last month, agreed Israel would receive $30 billion (14.8 billion pounds)
in U.S. military aid over the next decade, averaging $3 billion a year.
"This is an increase of 25 percent for the military aid to Israel from
the United States. I think this is a significant and important improvement of
the defence aid to Israel," Olmert told reporters.
He spoke a day after a senior U.S. defence official said Washington was working
on a military assistance deal for Israel expected to top $30 billion over the
next 10 years.
The aid boost has been widely seen as a U.S. bid to help allay Israeli concerns
over a package of arms sales, that could be worth some $20 billion over
the next decade, which Washington is preparing for Saudi Arabia and
other Gulf states.
"We understand the United States' need to assist the moderate Arab states,
which are standing in one front with the United States and us in the struggle
against Iran," Olmert said, referring to Tehran's nuclear programme.
A U.S. defence official said on Saturday the Bush administration hoped to present
the regional package to the U.S. Congress for approval later in the year.
Washington is striving to assure Gulf allies, worried by the growing strength
of Iran and war in Iraq, that the United States is committed to the region and
will stand by them, with arms sales part of that process, U.S. officials say.
The package for Saudi Arabia would upgrade its missile defences and air force
and increase its naval capabilities, the official said.
The United States also is preparing a package of military assistance worth
some $13 billion in the next decade for Egypt, another U.S. ally in the Middle
East, a senior State Department official said.