U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has expressed concern that the slow process of approval for U.S. arms sales is forcing some countries, including Iraq, to buy weapons elsewhere. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Santiago, Chile, where Secretary Gates is visiting.
Frustration over the slow approval process resulted in a $100 million Iraqi arms purchase from China, announced in Washington Wednesday by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. The light weapons are for Iraq's police forces. Secretary Gates says that causes him some concern.
"We have been concerned that our process is taking too long. On the other hand, the first request we received from the Iraqis for weapons was in January. We have already delivered over $600 million worth of weapons," he said.
Secretary Gates says another two-to-three-billion dollars worth of Iraqi purchases are in the process of being approved. The secretary says he is not particularly concerned that the Iraqi police purchase went to China, but he says the United States needs to improve its Foreign Military Sales Program for all its customers.
"This is an issue that we have to look into and see what we can do in the United States to be more responsive and to be able to react more quickly to the requirements of our friends," said Gates.
The secretary said the issue even came up during his talks with Chilean Defense Minister Jose Goni.
The two leaders reported they also discussed ways to broaden the already strong U.S.-Chilean defense relationship, including some advanced training for Chilean troops.
"Some of the areas that we are looking at are further exchanges between our military academies and educational institutions," said Goni. "We are looking at further cooperation on demining. We are looking at further exercises together. There is an interest in some specialized kinds of training on the part of the Chileans that we are going to look into."
Secretary Gates said he and Minister Goni also discussed the possibility of expanding Chile's international peacekeeping operations in what he called "new and different ways." But Goni expressed some reluctance to expand Chile's peacekeeping operations beyond their current scope, which includes more than 500 troops in Haiti and smaller numbers in the Balkans and elsewhere.
The minister said Chile is proud of its peacekeeping reputation, and does not want to expand into areas where it may not be able to perform at a high level.