Venezuelan ambassador insists purchase of boats and planes from Spain

Venezuela's ambassador to Spain Arevalo Mendez said Wednesday he was confident his country's planned Ђ1.7 billion (US$2 billion) deal to buy Spanish planes and boats would go ahead regardless of U.S. opposition, news reports said.

Mendez was speaking after the U.S. ambassador to Spain, Eduardo Aguirre, said earlier Wednesday the U.S. still had to decide whether it would block the deal because the planes carried U.S. technology. Mendez dismissed this possibility.

The deal, which is Spain's largest-ever defense order, comprises eight patrol and coast guard boats as well as 10 transport planes, to be sent to the South American nation. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero first announced the sale during a visit to Venezuela in March.

The news drew criticism from the United States, which also has expressed concerns that Venezuela has ordered 100,000 Kalashnikov-style assault rifles from Russia. The first 30,000 rifles were due to arrive next month.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said earlier it was unclear why Venezuela needed the weapons. Spanish officials said the boats and planes were crucial for Venezuela in its campaign against the drugs trade and would not upset the region's military balance.

Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos called the equipment "indispensable for patrolling territorial waters and forest frontiers, for the fight against drug trafficking, and is designed for civil and even humanitarian uses", AP reports.

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