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PERSIAN GULF STATES STILL HAVEN'T BUILT A DEFENSE ALLIANCE

The oil-rich Persian Gulf states the United States protected from Iraq still have not built their own defense alliance a year after the gulf war ended, a senior House Democrat complains.

Instead, the small states in the region continue to rely on large purchases of U.S. weaponry, and ultimately on the United States itself, for protection, Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., says."I have the impression that the gulf states are relying for their security on individual purchases of arms," Hamilton, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Middle East subcommittee, told Edward Djerejian, assistant secretary of state for the region.

"What they are really doing is relying on the United States as their security guarantor. And if they get into trouble again, they are going to blow the whistle."

Several attempts to set up a defense alliance have been rejected or ignored by the gulf states, Hamilton said. Meanwhile, the United States has shipped some $16 billion in arms to the region over the past 15 months.

"I don't see any restraint," Hamilton said at a hearing. "Arms just keep flowing into the region."

Djerejian countered that the administration is "not just willy-nilly selling arms to whoever asks for them." Rather, he said, any sales are subjected to a test of whether they will contribute to stability and peace, and will not infringe on Israel's security.

"Carefully selected military sales are vital," he said.

And Djerejian said the gulf states - including Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates - have recognized their need for collective security arrangements. "The security regime is not moving forward as rapidly as we would like, but there is progress," he said.

Rep. Mel Levine, D-Calif., said that answer was the same as heard from previous administration officials before the war. "Nothing's changed," he said. "There's no arms control here. It's rhetoric."

And Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., argued that selling U.S. arms to the small states, which have relatively weak military forces, amounted to "pre-positioning for the Iraqis," who could march in and seize the weapons.

One proposed weapons sale, involving 72 F-15 fighter aircraft to Saudi Arabia, is being reviewed in light of whether it would destabilize conditions in the Middle East, Djerejian said. "At this time, a decision is not imminent on this subject," he said.