U.S. plans $7 billion missile-defense sale to UAE

The Bush administration is planning to sell the United Arab Emirates an advanced U.S. missile defense system valued at up to $7 billion that could be used to defend against Iran, people who have attended briefings on the matter said on Monday.

The Pentagon is set to notify the U.S. Congress of the proposed sale, which would be the first of the so-called Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, several people familiar with the matter said.

THAAD is built by Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz). Raytheon Co (RTN.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) supplies the system's radar.

Once notified of such a proposed arms sale by the administration, Congress has 30 days to review it but almost never blocks.

In any case, deployment of the THAAD weapons system is "at least months away" and could take more than a year, said a congressional staff member familiar with the matter.

Kenneth Katzman, an expert on the Gulf at the Congressional Research Service, said the UAE has been eager for a "sophisticated antidote" to Iran's missile capabilities.

"The UAE has been concerned for many years about possible retaliation against it for U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities," he said.

For Iran, Katzman added, UAE could be an attractive target because of its billions of dollars of infrastructure investments.

Craig Vanbebber, a Lockheed Martin spokesman, said several countries had shown interest in buying the THAAD system, "with its significant coverage area and tremendous success in recent testing."

THAAD is the first missile defense system designed to defend against short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles both inside and outside the Earth's atmosphere.

The potential $7 billion sale would include anti-missile interceptors, firing units, associated radar sites and training, among other things, a congressional staff member said. (Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

[Source: Reuters, Washington, 08Sep08]

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