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Rumsfeld Criticizes Spain Over Venezuela Military Sales

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has criticized Spain for offering to sell military planes and patrol boats to Venezuela. The secretary spoke from the Pentagon in an interview with the Miami Herald newspaper, following up on his visit to Latin America last month.

Secretary Rumsfeld told the Herald he is concerned about what Venezuela will do with all the military equipment it plans to buy, including 100,000 AK-47 rifles from Russia, and patrol boats and military transport planes from Spain.

"I personally think that Spain is making a mistake, but that's my personal opinion. And I guess time will tell," he said. "The problem is that if one waits until time tells it can be an unhappy story."

In Spain this week, the new U.S. assistant secretary of state, Robert Zoellick, also expressed concern about the planned sales, saying they could destabilize the region.

In the Miami Herald interview, Secretary Rumsfeld would not say whether the United States plans to sell matching weapons to Colombia. U.S. officials have accused Venezuela of supporting Marxist Colombian rebels, a charge Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez denies. Venezuela also says there is nothing to fear from its planned military purchases, which it says are merely designed to replace old equipment.

Secretary Rumsfeld said he has spoken to Russian officials about their planned rifle sale to Venezuela. He said the Russian officials indicated they do not know how many rifles Venezuela will actually buy.

Secretary Rumsfeld also said he has no evidence Venezuela plans to provide some of the new rifles to the Colombian rebels, but he repeated a concern he expressed during his visit to South America last month.

"If you have a country that ends up buying 100,000 AK-47s you have to ask the question: What are they going to do with them all?" he asked. "One has to worry about the proliferation of these weapons that end up getting brought into the region from elsewhere."

The secretary also said 100,00 rifles are more that the Venezuelan army could use.

He also dismissed as "ridiculous" President Chavez's claim that the United States plans to take military action against him or his country. And Secretary Rumsfeld stopped short of directly accusing Venezuela of helping the Colombian rebels, saying only that Venezuela has not been helpful.

"Can you find places that are not being helpful? Sure. Do you wish that weren't the case? Sure. But it's never been perfect in life," said Mr. Rumsfeld. "But I must say I think the hemisphere is generally moving very much in the right direction."

Secretary Rumsfeld said he is generally very pleased with developments in Latin America, where he said most of the countries are democracies and they are developing constructive political, economic and security relationships with one another.