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US Concerned About Proposed Brazilian Aircraft Sale to Venezuela


The Bush administration said Friday it has expressed concern to Brazil about a proposed sale of Brazilian military aircraft to Venezuela. But it stopped short of saying it will block the transfer of the planes, which contain some U.S. technology.

Citing what it says is an outsized military buildup by Venezuela, the Bush administration has confirmed it is talking to Brazil about its proposed aircraft sale to its northern neighbor, which cannot go forward without U.S. approval.

Brazil is seeking to sell Venezuela a fleet of 20 Super Tucano light combat and reconnaissance aircraft made by the Brazilian manufacturer Embraer.

The United States would have to approve the $200 million deal, because the planes contain U.S. technology. The Bush administration has thus far not issued the required export licenses, prompting complaints from both Venezuela and Brazil.

Last week, the United States denied NATO-ally Spain the licenses to sell Venezuela 12 transport and maritime surveillance planes.

At a news briefing Friday State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said U.S. officials are concerned about the pending Brazilian sale, because of what he said is a disproportionate military buildup by oil-rich Venezuela.

"Fueled by revenues coming from increased oil prices, there has been, the Venezuelan government has talked about, a buying spree for military equipment," said Mr. McCormack. "Well, this planned buying spree is really out-sized, in the analysis of many, to Venezuela's defense needs. So, we have expressed those concerns in the past, we expressed those concerns to the Spanish government as well as the Brazilian government."

The spokesman said the United States is also concerned about an activation of military reserve forces, and a plan by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to create a one million-strong civilian militia that reportedly would be under his direct control.

The Bush administration has had a difficult relationship with Mr. Chavez, a leftwing populist leader with close ties to, among others, Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Mr. Chavez described the U.S. veto of the Spanish sale as an act of imperialism. In Brasilia this week, he said U.S. objections to the proposed Brazilian deal are absurd.

For its part, the aircraft maker Embraer said the turbo-prop Super Tucano planes are for combating arms and drug trafficking, not offensive warfare, and that it is working on changes that might make the sale acceptable to Washington.

The United States last year voiced concern about a Russian sale of 100,000 assault rifles to Venezuela, and it reportedly interceded to block a planned Israeli upgrade of U.S.-made F-16 fighter planes in the Venezuelan air force.

Mr. Chavez said Tuesday he had sent a military procurement team to Moscow and that if Venezuela had to replace the F-16's with Russian MIG-fighter planes, it will.