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Rumsfeld Questions Possible Venezuela-Russia Arms Deal

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld expressed concern Wednesday about reports that Venezuela is seeking to buy 100,000 assault rifles from Russia. Mr. Rumsfeld, who is in the middle of a four-day trip to Latin America, made the comments after meeting with a top Brazilian official.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met with Brazil's vice president and defense minister, Jose Alencar. The two men discussed a variety of bilateral issues, including counter-narcotics efforts in the Amazon and counter-terrorism efforts in the tri-border area shared by Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.

After the meeting, Mr. Rumsfeld told journalists the United States was troubled by reports that Venezuela is seeking to buy 100,000 assault rifles and 10 military helicopters from Russia.

"I can't imagine what is going to happen to 100,000 AK-47s,” he said. “I don't understand why Venezuela needs 100,000 AK-47s."

Venezuela's government says it needs the weapons to defend itself from foreign threats. The United States says it fears the $120 million arms deal could trigger an arms race in the region and lead to the destabilization of Venezuela's neighbors. The United States is especially worried that some of the weapons could end up in the hands of the FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), which the United States considers to be a terrorist organization.

The U.S. defense secretary characterized his meeting with Mr. Alencar as positive. He said they discussed Brazil's role as the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti. Brazil, which has contributed 1,100 troops to the effort, has played a key role in assembling a coalition of peacekeepers from Latin American nations, including Argentina and Chile.

Mr. Rumsfeld declined to say if Brazil's leadership in Haiti prepared the country for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

"The Department of Defense does not have a voice or a role in that and I think I will leave that to the president of the United States and the secretary of state of the United States," Mr. Rumsfeld added.

Brazil, along with Japan, Germany, India, Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa are frequently mentioned as possible candidates if the Security Council is expanded to include more permanent members.

Mr. Rumsfeld's stop in Brazil is the second on his tour of Latin America. He met with Argentina's defense minister in Buenos Aires on Tuesday and is scheduled to fly to Guatemala.