TEL AVIV, Israel -- Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, in an interview broadcast Saturday, defended Israeli arms sales to Iran and rejected U.S. criticism as an attempt to 'blemish' Israel.
'If I were to ignore the issue, then the version that was released here (in the United States) would be accepted at face value,' Sharon said in an interview taped in Washington and broadcast by Israel Radio in Tel Aviv.
'There is an attempt now to blemish Israel, perhaps part of a plan to pressure Israel later,' Sharon said.
Sharon insisted $27 million in arms sales were made with the 'full knowledge and agreement' of the United States, despite a State Department denial.
Asked about criticism of the sale, Sharon replied: 'There was no place for criticism.'
'For months, we have been trying to explain (the arms sales) to American government officials and we have told them about the limited supply of equipment to Iran -- something limited and small, which has been done with their full knowledge and agreement,' he said.
Sharon said Israel was not, 'as some people have tried to present it, a main arms supplier to Iran and a partner of Ayatollah Khomeini.'
Sharon's confirmation -- the first official disclosure of the sales to Iran -- came months after an Argentine plane carrying Israeli replacement tires and wheels for Iran's U.S.-made F-4 Phantoms crashed near the Soviet-Iranian border.
The Islamic government of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini continues to deny having received any weapons from Israel.
Sharon said he warned Secretary of State Alexander Haig and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger in talks last week in Washington against supporting Iraq in the war against Iran.
'I talked to them about the Iraq-Iran matter and I warned against the attempt to strengthen Iraq against Iran. From Israel's point of view, the support for Iraq against Iran might endanger the whole Middle East, not just Israel,' he said.
'I said that from our vantage point, Khomeini's government is as bad and as murderous as the government of (Iraqi President) Sadaam Hussein. But despite the resentment in the United States toward the Khomeini regime, one has to assess the situation in the longer term,' he said.
Sharon told other interviewers last week moderate Iranian officers whose lives were saved by Israeli weapons would remember the Jewish state if power ever changed in Tehran.