Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci said Friday opponents of U.S. defense cooperation with Arab states are costing U.S. workers billions of dollars in jobs in lost arms sales to Arab nations.

"Various interest groups and many in Congress have sought to impede virtually every administration initiative to provide reasonable and responsible military assistance to our Arab partners," he said in a speech to the American-Arab Council."The notion that U.S. defense cooperation with moderate Arab states poses a danger to Israel is ill-founded and untrue," he said in a prepared speech to the Huntington, W.Va., meeting released by the Pentagon.

"Some in Congress have sought to block the president's initiatives to support and perpetuate these important defense relationships" - an apparent reference to Arab weapons sales stopped by Israeli supporters.

As a result, Great Britain, France, China and the Soviet Union are moving into the position "America has traditionally enjoyed with friends such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia," he said.

"I see tens of billions of dollars worth of jobs going abroad instead of sustaining our key defense industries and bolstering the U.S. economy," Carlucci said.

He also warned that "Israel must regard non-American arms in the hands of its neighbors as a higher risk (than U.S. weapons sales)."

"We need a new sense of realism in Washington about the strategic purposes of our policies in the Middle East, both diplomatic and military - for the two are interrelated," he said.

"Some in Washington, and on Capitol Hill in particular, have exhibited a lack of realism about the why and wherefore of U.S.-Arab defense relationships."

Carlucci's comments are surprising in that they come less than three weeks before the presidential election and run the risk of antagonizing an important segment of the American electorate.