WASHINGTON — The Bush administration has decided to supply billions of dollars in advanced new weapons to Saudi Arabia, other Arab allies of the United States and to Israel, senior State Department officials and congressional aides said Friday.
The arms and aid package, which the officials said is to be announced on Monday, is part of a U.S. initiative to reassure worried allies in the Middle East that despite its troubles in Iraq, the United States remains committed to the region. It also is meant to send a signal of resolve to Iran's increasingly confident leaders.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates leave for the Middle East on Monday on a rare joint mission to deliver those messages in person to the region's leaders.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the package has not yet been announced, said it would include selling Saudi Arabia advanced weapons known as Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs. JDAMs convert simple gravity bombs into accurate "smart" weapons.
Israel protested the proposed sale when word of it first leaked in April.
The package also will include new weapons for the United Arab Emirates, another U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf, and both military and economic support to Egypt. Other details of the proposed arms sales weren't immediately available Friday.
Although it's likely to be controversial, the administration has decided to proceed with the sale and will compensate Israel — which seeks to maintain a "qualitative military edge" over its Arab neighbors — with military upgrades of its own, the officials said.
"All that has been sorted out," said a senior State Department official.
Israel has asked for access to the Air Force's most advanced fighter jet, the F-22 Raptor, and its stealth technology, which makes the aircraft more difficult to see on radar.
Administration officials shared details of the proposed arms sales with members of Congress this week. Congress has the power to block such sales, but the White House is hoping to avoid a major fight on the issue.
The weapons sales, however, are almost certain to be criticized by democracy and human rights advocates.
President Bush and Rice have criticized the lack of democracy in some of the countries — particularly Egypt — that Washington will now help re-arm.
But the Bush administration is eager to fend off the notion, which has begun to take root in the Middle East because of the U.S. domestic debate over withdrawing troops from Iraq, that America's commitment to the region's security is in question.
"We haven't had significant military sales there in some time," the official said.
Under a 10-year agreement that will soon expire, the United States has been phasing out economic aid to Israel and increasing military assistance.
After meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the White House last month, Bush issued a statement saying that he told Olmert, "I am committed to reaching a new 10-year agreement that will give Israel the increased assistance it requires to meet the new threats and challenges it faces."
Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns is expected to travel to Israel in early August to negotiate the agreement.