A top-level US delegation has started a tour of the Middle East, with promises of billions of euros worth of arms for allies there. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defence Secretary Robert Gates say the weapons packages on offer will help counter al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran.
The meeting’s hosts, Egypt, are being offered nine-and-a-half billion euros-worth of military aid over 10 years, but Rice has denied that the US is trying to shift the military balance in the region, nor is it starting a new arms race. The meeting also includes ministers from the Gulf Co-operation Council, comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Iran has criticised the military aid, saying the US is trying to create fear and distrust in the Middle East to destabilise the region. Rice dismissed suggestions that the aid packages were a way of buying help, saying the US is working with those states to fight back extremism.