Democratic White House Hopeful John Edwards Slams Bush Arms Sale to Saudi Arabia

Democratic presidential hopeful 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.

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 arms.

"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 call. "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."

Saudi Arabia, a major player in the region, proposed a peace initiative between the Arabs and Israel in 2002. While Israel initially rejected the deal, the Saudi proposal has become the cornerstone of the current Arab peace initiative while Arab League ministers outlined during a recent visit to Israel. The plan envisions full Arab recognition of Israel in return for its withdrawal from lands captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

Edwards is the first Democratic presidential candidate to speak out against the arms deal. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Saudi Arabia Tuesday as apart of a two-day visit with Arab allies that opened talks on the proposed U.S. arms package.

Edwards said the arms deal could backfire by giving Iran an incentive to build its nuclear strength.