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Those outside the debate include the president, who has little experience with foreign policy, and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who while a staunch liberal, has not weighed in directly on the debate.

Likewise, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who is focused mainly on Afghanistan, has not made clear where he stands on the China debate. However, he upset some pro-China hands in the administration when he said that he even though he strongly favors resuming military talks and exchanges with the Chinese military, he does not want talks that are not substantive.

For Mr. Gates, crunch time on any new China policy is coming next spring. The secretary, if he stays in office, must make a series of decisions that will affect policies, arms acquisitions and war planning related to China, including a major revision of U.S. war plans for a conflict with China.

The decisions will involve several major weapons programs the military wants to deal with a future hostile China, including a new long-range bomber, the high-technology “prompt global strike” program that will permit attacks on any place on Earth in 30 minutes or so; and U.S. counterspace programs to deal with China’s anti-satellite weapons.

Officials said Adm. Robert Willard, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command and normally a key player on China policy, has been sidelined in the debate, after initially making speeches and statements that put him squarely in the camp of China skeptics.

White House NSC spokesman Mike Hammer told The Ring that the administration has one China policy — the president’s.

“The president and his advisers all have a keen sense of both the challenges and opportunities in pursuing a constructive and cooperative relationship with China that advances U.S. interests,” he said. “There are no camps into which his advisers fall — we are all on the same team.”

Saudi arms deal

U.S. officials say the $60 billion arms package approved for Saudi Arabia and announced on Tuesday has triggered new fears among states in the Middle East that plans for a future U.S. and Israeli military strike on Iran are moving ahead.

According to the officials, the arms package is viewed by Iran and others in the region as part preparations for attacking Iranian nuclear facilities, located in nearly two dozen underground and above-ground facilities.

The arms package to Saudi Arabia, along with other pending arms deals with Kuwait, Bahrain, and United Arab Emirates, is viewed as part of a U.S. plan to win regional support and bolster defenses for the future strike on Iran.

The Saudi deal, outlined in a notification to Congress of intent to sell, includes 84 F-15 jets; 70 upgrades for existing Saudi F-15s; 70 AH-64D Apache attack helicopters; 72 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters; and 36 AH-6 light attack helicopters.

But aside from the aircraft, the package includes thousands of missiles and bombs for the F-15s and helicopters that clearly send a signal that the kingdom is preparing for war: 300 AIM-9 Sidewinders; 500 AIM-120 AMRAAMs; 1,000 laser-guided 2,000-pound bombs; 1,000 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMS); 1,300 sensor fused weapons; and 1,000 general purpose 500-pound bombs.

Other missiles in the F-15 package are 400 Harpoon missiles and 600 Harm missiles.

For helicopters, the Saudis are set to buy 4,700 Hellfire missiles and 6,000 laser-guided rockets.

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