Israeli official apologises for arms deal

Israel has publicly apologised to the US over arms exports to China, after describing its arms industry relations with Washington as in crisis.

    Shalom: These things were done with the utmost innocence

    Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told Israel Radio on Sunday that his government was seeking to do everything possible to bury the hatchet on selling US weapons technology to Beijing.

    The dispute centres 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 an integral part of its nation.

    "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 US 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 US interests," Shalom added.

    Washington has proven itself Israel's greatest ally time and again, casting its UN veto 39 times to shield Israel from Security Council draft resolutions that condemned, deplored or denounced its government's policies over the past 33 years.

    US aid to Israel

    The dispute has strained security ties between Israel and the United States, its main ally and provider of about $2 billion in annual aid for arms and military equipment.

    The US could oversee Israel's
    arms sales to China

    Commenting on the arms dispute ahead of her trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories, Rice said Israel should be sensitive to US concerns on arms sales to China particularly given its close defence 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 that would likely enable the US to supervise Israeli arms sales to countries that Washington deems problematic, including China and India.

    Washington torpedoed Israel's multibillion-dollar sale of Phalcon strategic airborne radar systems to China in 2000, citing concerns it could upset the regional balance of power.

    US 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.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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