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US Urges Moscow to Reconsider Venezuela Arms Deal


The United States Tuesday again urged the Russian government to reconsider a $1 billion military aircraft sale to Venezuela. U.S. officials say Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez' weapons plans exceed the country's defensive needs.

The U.S. appeal came as Mr. Chavez arrived in Moscow for a visit expected to include the signing of several weapons deals, among them the $1 billion purchase of 30 Sukhoi SU-30 jets and a like number of military helicopters.

The SU-30 is a long-range multi-role fighter jet and would be a major upgrade over aging U.S.-supplied F-16 aircraft that have been the mainstay of the Venezuelan air force.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said the United States has raised its concerns with Moscow over the proposed sale, which he said would be in the best interests of neither Russia nor Venezuela.

"We repeatedly talked to the Russian government that the arms purchases planned by Venezuela exceeded its defensive needs, and are not helpful in terms of regional stability," said Mr. Casey. "Certainly, given the fact that this aircraft costs between $30 million and $45 million each, depending which model you're talking about, kind of raises some questions about Venezuela's priorities."

The spokesman did not say if the United States would make a last-minute diplomatic appeal to Russian authorities over the pending sale.

But he said the Bush administration has had a number of discussions with Moscow about the issue and will probably have more.

The United States has accused Mr. Chavez, a left-leaning populist, of curbing democratic freedoms at home and meddling in affairs of neighboring states.

The Venezuelan leader has alleged a U.S. role in a military coup that briefly unseated him in 2002, and says he needs new weapons, including 100,000 Russian assault rifles, because of alleged U.S. invasion plans.

Mr. Chavez arrived in Russia from neighboring Belarus, where he held talks with President Alexander Lukashenko, who has also been a target of U.S. criticism because of his authoritarian governing style.

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