- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2000

JERUSALEM Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak resisted pressure from U.S. Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen yesterday to cancel a deal that would supply China with a sophisticated airborne-surveillance system.

However, Mr. Barak implied that Israel would be more sensitive to U.S. concerns about supplying China with arms in light of recent escalating tensions between China and U.S.-backed Taiwan.

Mr. Barak, who also serves as defense minister, said Israel was aware of the need to coordinate such arms deals with the United States but that it had already signed a contract with China for one such plane.

"We are aware of the need to coordinate … with the United States on every issue that might risk American interests," Mr. Barak said during a joint news conference with Mr. Cohen.

The United States has on several occasions expressed its displeasure over Israel's $250 million plan, announced in November, to sell China the Airborne Warning and Control System, which allows aircraft to conduct long-range radar surveillance and coordinate forces during battle. A plane outfitted with the system is to be delivered to China soon, and the sale of two more planes is being negotiated.

Mr. Cohen said he expressed his opposition to the sale in a meeting with Mr. Barak yesterday. "The United States does not support the sale of this kind of technology to … China because of the potential of changing the strategic balance in that region," he said. "With tensions running as high as they are in China and Taiwan, we see this as being counterproductive."

"I have expressed that to the prime minister," Mr. Cohen added.

Israeli media reports said the United States has linked some of its annual $3 billion in foreign aid to Israel to cancellation of the deal. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said no such cut was being considered.

However, in Washington, State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said that as far as he knew, there were no contingencies to cut Israel's foreign aid.

"On the other hand, it's fair to say that if Israel were not to respond to our concerns … it would have some effect; precisely what, I'm not prepared to speculate," Mr. Rubin told reporters at a briefing.

Mr. Barak left open the possibility, however, of taking U.S. interests into consideration in future deals, like the proposal to provide two additional planes to China.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cohen said proposals for a U.S.-Israeli defense pact had been put on the back burner since an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights as part of a peace deal with Syria did not appear likely.

"Any discussion about this enhanced relationship was in fact in the context of the requirements that might be necessary in order to ensure Israel's security should there be a pact, an agreement with Syria," Mr. Cohen said. One version of a defense pact would declare that an attack against Israel be considered an attack against the United States.

Mr. Barak said any upgrade of the relationship would have to be done gradually, to avoid straining the United States' relationship with moderate Arab governments.

Mr. Cohen left Israel later yesterday for a trip to Cairo, Jordan and Persian Gulf states.

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