The Bush administration says it is considering an Israeli request to sell India its Arrow anti-ballistic missile, a system developed in partnership with the United States. The issue is expected to figure in Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit to India this coming weekend.
The State Department says no final decision has been made on whether to allow the deal to go forward. But officials here are none-the-less emphasizing the potential destabilizing effects of such a sale for South Asia, and the possibility it might violate the 1987 international accord that seeks to limit the spread of missile technology.
Israel is seeking approval from the Bush administration to proceed with the sale to India of its Arrow-Two missile, which is designed to intercept short-to-medium range ballistic missiles like the Scuds fired against Israel by Iraq in the Gulf War.
Israel would need Bush administration approval for the India sale since the Arrow project has been largely financed by the United States and the system incorporates U.S. technology. At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the matter is under discussion with the Israelis and that an inter-agency debate on the merits of the sale is also underway in Washington.
"We have discussed with them some of the issues that arise in our consideration of the request," he said. "I think we're all concerned about stability in South Asia. We're all concerned and emphasize the importance of the Missile Technology Control Regime. So these are issues that we've been discussing with the Israeli government. At this point we have not given a definitive answer to the Israeli request, but we continue to discuss the issue in Washington."
A Washington Post newspaper report Tuesday said senior State Department officials are "united" in opposition to the sale to India because of, among other things, concern it might prompt Pakistan to respond by seeking its own missile defense system, or by increasing its offensive missile capability to counter Indian defenses.
The deal is reported, however, to have the backing of senior Defense Department officials and supporters at the Pentagon and elsewhere of the administration's own ambitious missile-defense program.
A final U.S. determination on the Israeli request is expected, as one official put it, "fairly soon" though it is unlikely to be made before Secretary of State Powell's talks in India and Pakistan Saturday and Sunday.
The debate over the sale to India is similar to an episode two years ago, when Israel bowed to U.S. pressure and called off a sale to China of its Phalcon airborne early-warning radar system.
The Clinton administration argued at the time that the $250 million deal might shift the military balance in the Taiwan straits.