There is an article in the Boston Globe this morning that talks about how the Bush Administration is quietly trying to increase US arms sales to countries in the Persian Gulf region.
WASHINGTON -- The State Department and the Pentagon are quietly seeking congressional approval for significant new military sales to US allies in the Persian Gulf region. The move is part of a broader American strategy to contain Iranian influence by strengthening Iran's neighbors and signaling that the United States is still a strong military player in the Middle East, despite all the difficulties in Iraq.
But the arms sales, which would come on top of a recent upgrade of US Patriot antimissile interceptors in Qatar and Kuwait and the deployment of two aircraft carriers to the Gulf, could spark concerns that further military buildup in the volatile region would bring Washington closer to a confrontation with Iran.
Senior US officials have been tight-lipped in public about what systems they hope to sell, citing the need to get congressional support for the measure first and skittishness among Arab allies that don't want the publicity. Current and former US officials and analysts familiar with the discussions say items under consideration include sophisticated air and missile defense systems, advanced early warning radar aircraft that could detect low-flying missiles, and light coastal combat ships that could sweep the Gulf for mines and help gather underwater intelligence.
The arms sales are a Cold War-style geopolitical maneuver designed to isolate Iran by arming its neighbors against a perceived common threat.
Boston Globe Arms Sales article
The article further says that
The current arms sale proposals grew out of a diplomatic effort launched last May called the "Gulf Security Dialogue," in which US officials sought to suggest ways to bolster the defenses of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Oman.
Boston Globe Arms Sales article
Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, has been trying to schedule briefings on Capitol Hill to see the arms deals. He was scheduled to brief the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this afternoon in a closed briefing about Gulf Security Dialogue, but it was postponed.
Burns is still scheduled to testify in front of Chris Dodd's Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs committee today at 9:30 AM. The topic of the hearing is: Minimizing Potential Threats from Iran: Assessing the Effectiveness of Current US Sanctions on Iran. You can listen to this hearing here:
Senate Banking Comm hearing on Iran
Why is the Senate Banking Committee holding hearings on Iran? Maybe some of the answer is contained in this story in the New York Times today:
U.S. Cautions Foreign Companies on Iran Deals
By STEVEN R. WEISMAN
WASHINGTON, March 20 — For all its efforts to apply economic and political pressure on Iran over its nuclear program, the United States has never used a potentially potent tool in its arsenal — penalties on foreign companies that assist Iran in producing oil and natural gas.
That may be about to change. The Bush administration has quietly been warning energy companies, including Shell, Repsol and SKS, the Malaysian oil company, as well as the governments of China, India, Pakistan and Malaysia, that penalties are possible if they pursue energy deals with Iran.
As a result, several huge projects planned for Iran could be vulnerable. These include one possible $10 billion project by Royal Dutch Shell and the Spanish oil company, Repsol YPF, to develop a natural gas field offshore in Iran, and a $20 billion venture by SKS Ventures of Malaysia to produce natural gas in Iran’s Golshan and Ferdows fields.
In recent months, the administration has tried to avoid diplomatic or political controversies as a result of its jawboning. But the potential for sanctions is posing a quandary for the administration by setting up a possible fight with Europe if it proceeds with them or a fight with Congress if it does not.
So, is this a case of the Bush Administration trying to keep the oil deals with Iran away from the Russian and Chinese companies? (Several of the companies listed as being dissuaded have strong US ties and listings on US stock exchanges.)