Germany's foreign minister has criticized U.S. plans to funnel more than $43 billion in military aid to Middle East allies, saying only diplomacy would solve the problems of the troubled region.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier is the most senior German politician and first cabinet-level member to question the aid package for Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states since Washington announced it on Monday.

"A military buildup is hardly the best solution to the unstable situation in the Middle East," Steinmeier told the Thursday edition of German daily Handelsblatt.

His comments echo those of other German officials in recent days, including Ruprecht Polenz, head of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee and a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party.

Steinmeier, a member of the centre-left Social Democrats who rule in coalition with Merkel, has also been sharply critical of U.S. plans to deploy parts of a missile shield in central Europe.

U.S. officials say the military aid is aimed at assuring Gulf allies, worried by the growing strength of Iran and by the war in Iraq, that the United States is committed to the region and will stand by them.

The proposed packages still have to be approved by Congress and there is expected to be opposition from some lawmakers, particularly to aid for Saudi Arabia, which some accuse of not being helpful to the U.S.-backed government in Iraq.

"We think that a political dialogue with all of the actors in the region is the way to go," Steinmeier told the newspaper.