Ahmadinejad criticizes U.S. arms deal

( AP ) - Iran's president criticized the U.S. on Friday for its plan to increase weapons sales to several Arab countries and step up military aid to Israel, saying Washington was trying to impose its dominance on the Middle East.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comments were sparked by Washington's announcement earlier this week that it would sell advanced weaponry to Persian Gulf nations worth at least $20 billion and provide new 10-year military aid packages to Israel and Egypt."All U.S. efforts are for the creation of differences among our brothers in the region to impose its ideas and hegemony," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying on his office's official Web site. "Americans feel their relations with regional ( Mideast) countries are weakened, and under cover of this, the arms deal, they want to make relations warm."

Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group, also criticized the U.S. plan, accusing Washington of seeking to drown the Middle East in wars.

"The United States is bringing billions of dollars worth of arms to ignite wars in this region," Nasrallah said in a speech beamed through giant television screens to hundreds of thousands of supporters in eastern Lebanon's city of Baalbek. "The American administration is working on instigating sectarian strife and civil wars in Palestine, Iraq, the Gulf and ... between the countries of this region."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited U.S. allies in the Middle East this week to discuss the proposed military package, seen as a counterweight to Iran's rising influence in the region. Iran is one of Hezbollah's main backers.

Ahmadinejad also criticized U.S. support for Israel and Washington's efforts to promote Arab-Israeli peace.

"The U.S. plans to introduce Israel as a friend of the regional (Arab) countries," the Iranian leader said. "Instead, they want to portray the Iranian nation, brother and best friend of Arab nations, as their enemy."

The U.S. accuses Iran of developing nuclear weapons and supporting Shiite militias in Iraq, charges Tehran denies.

The Sunni-led governments of the Middle East are also wary of Shiite Iran's growing power, and Israel views the country as its principal enemy. The U.S. hopes to capitalize on this fear to rally support for its efforts to isolate Iran.

During his visit, Gates said the U.S. "can't wait years" for Iran to change its policies and argued that more countries needed to support U.N. sanctions to put additional pressure on Iran.

Ahmadinejad called on Arab nations to spurn the U.S. weapons deal, arguing they should "spend the resources for progress and development of their countries."

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