UNITED States Defense Secretary Dick Cheney sought yesterday to allay Arab misgivings over the stockpiling of US weapons in Israel, but ducked the issue of whether Washington's arms proposals covered Israel's nuclear capability. Speaking to the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt, he said the pre-positioning of US arms and ammunition in Israel did not contradict President Bush's arms control plan.
``I will argue there is no contradiction between on the one hand suggesting that time is ripe to rein in the accumulation of vast quantities of arms and at the same time satisfy the legitimate security needs of our friends,'' Mr. Cheney said.
Many Arabs were taken by surprise by Cheney's announcement in Israel that Washington would pay most of the cost of an Israeli antimissile missile and was stockpiling weapons in the Jewish state in case of another war in the region.
It came hours after Bush outlined his initiative to control the flow of conventional arms to the Middle East and introduce a freeze followed by a ban on acquiring weapons of mass destruction - nuclear, chemical, or biological.
Iraq protests UN reparations plan
Iraq said a United Nations proposal to deduct up to 30 percent of Iraq's oil revenues to pay for Gulf war reparations was a deliberate attempt to harm the Iraqi people and hold up economic reconstruction.
Information Minister Hamed Youssef Hummadi, in a statement late Saturday, said the 30 percent proposal did not take into account the damage inflicted on Iraq during the Gulf war and the civil unrest that followed.
UN Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar, who made the proposal, had based his calculations on Iraq's civilian budget during the 1980s, when military spending for the war with Iran consumed most of the government budget, Mr. Hummadi added.
``By ignoring these facts, Mr. [P'erez] de Cuellar seeks to do deliberate damage to the Iraqi people and to the reconstruction of its economy,'' he said.
A European economic expert, however, said he thought the UN Compensation Commission's governing council would set the initial rate lower than 30 percent, because the secretary-general's estimates were based on 1993 projections.
Iran says it will urge hostage release
President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said Iran was helping to try to win the release of 12 Western hostages in Lebanon in exchange for Arab prisoners held by Israel. But Mr. Rafsanjani said in an interview with the Jomhuri Eslami newspaper Saturday the pro-Iranian groups who are believed to hold most of the hostages did not always listen to Iran.
Iranian officials said last week they expected the Western hostages, most thought held by the pro-Tehran Hizbullah (Party of God), to be released soon. Hizbullah, an umbrella for a string of Muslim fundamentalist groups, has denied involvement in hostage-taking.
The hostage issue has acted as a brake on Iran's efforts to normalize relations with the West and to win much-needed finance and expertise for an ambitious reconstruction program spearheaded by Rafsanjani.
The US has repeatedly said it will not resume relations with Tehran until the 12 Western hostages - six Americans, three Britons, two Germans, and an Italian - are freed.
The release of the hostages could unlock billions of dollars in Iranian assets frozen by the US, which cut off relations with Tehran in 1979 following the seizure of the US Embassy and its staff in the Iranian capital.
The embassy captives were released after 444 days, but the Iranian assets are still impounded pending settling of claims with US companies.