WASHINGTON - Democrat John Edwards said the Bush administration's plan to sell $20 billion worth of weapons to friendly Arab states amounted to a foreign policy of convenience and he will take a tougher stance with Saudi Arabia if elected president.
Sen. John Edwards, center, greets Donna Bergheim, 82, during a fundraiser benefiting the 2007 Virginia House of Delegates campaigns in Vienna, Va. on Tuesday, July 31, 2007. [AP]
Edwards said the United States should require the Saudi government to shut down the movement of terrorists across its borders, help stabilize the Iraqi government and participate more seriously in regional security before they are offered weapons.
"Whether it's Iraq or terrorism, the Saudis have fallen way short of what they need to be doing," the 2004 vice presidential nominee told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "And the Bush administration's response is to sell them $20 billion worth of arms, which is short-term and convenient and not what the United States should be doing."
Edwards is the first Democratic presidential candidate to speak out against the deal. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Saudi Arabia Tuesday as part of a two-day visit with Arab allies that opened talks on the proposed US arms package.
Edwards said the arms deal could backfire by giving Iran an incentive to build its nuclear strength.
"They have to try to offset the conventional arms deficiencies that they're faced with," Edwards said. "That's the whole problem with this idea that you deal with these things in terms of what's helpful at the moment instead of what needs to be done over the long term."
Edwards called the AP from a refueling stop in Garden City, Kan., between campaign stops in California and Virginia, where he helped raise about $42,000 for legislative candidates. Virginia Democrats are trying to regain control of the state Senate majority they lost 12 years ago so that they will have more influence in redrawing congressional boundaries in 2011.
Edwards told the crowd of about 100 that he wanted to help because "we cannot move progressive agendas without having stronger positions in these state legislatures."