Monday, June 20, 2005

The Pentagon has sharply curtailed weapons-technology transfers to Israel as part of a dispute over Israel’s arms sales to China, according to Department of Defense officials.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said yesterday that difficult negotiations with Israel to resolve the dispute are not finished.

“We continue to raise these concerns with allies, friends, partners to look to them to take a responsible approach to arms sales to China,” Mr. Whitman said.

“We’ve had some long-standing concerns about the sale of defense technology to China that go back for some time,” he said of the Israeli transfers.

Mr. Whitman said the curbs on defense-technology cooperation with Israel are not a “blanket prohibition” and are not specific to one program, such as the Joint Strike Fighter.

He declined to discuss the details of the talks or the technology-transfer ban. A defense official said, however, that “the Israelis know what they need to do.”

“It’s a matter of them taking the actions necessary for us to be released from those concerns,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Sunday that U.S. and Israeli officials are working to resolve the dispute. “We’ve made our concerns known to the Israeli government,” she said in an interview on Israel’s TV2.

The secretary said she discussed the issue with Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and was assured that “Israel fundamentally understands why the military buildup of the Chinese is of concern to us.”

“After all, we defend in the Pacific,” she said.

Asked about press reports in Israel that the Bush administration has demanded the resignation of several Israeli officials involved in arms sales to China, Miss Rice did not answer directly.

“The issue is to deal with the problem and to deal with our concerns,” she said. “And I’m quite certain we’ll find a way to deal with those.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom on Sunday said in a radio interview that Israel was sorry for past arms transfers that ran counter to U.S. interests. “The United States is our biggest ally, and none of the things were done with the intention of harming U.S. interests,” he said.

Defense officials said cooperation with Israel in defense technology was cut back in April after intelligence reports that Israel planned to upgrade the Harpy anti-radar armed drones sold to China earlier.

U.S. intelligence agencies first identified the propeller-driven Harpy drones — which carry a bomb and home in on radar signals — in 2003.

Several of the drones were spotted with Chinese military forces engaged in large-scale exercises near Taiwan. The disclosure was first reported by The Washington Times in July 2003.

The Pentagon is worried that the military balance is shifting in Beijing’s favor across the Taiwan Strait. President Bush vowed in April 2001 that the United States would do “whatever it takes” to help Taiwan defend itself from a mainland attack.

The statement prompted a reassessment of Pentagon plans for a defense of the island, which broke with the communist mainland in 1949.

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