Joint congressional letter questions Saudi arms deal

(JTA) – A joint congressional letter raising concerns and asking questions about a proposed $60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia was delivered to Obama administration officials.

The bipartisan letter, signed by 198 U.S. lawmakers, was delivered Nov. 12 to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Foreign Policy magazine reported.

The letter was coordinated jointly by outgoing House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and incoming chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), according to the report.

"We believe that arms transfers, particularly those of this magnitude and involving such sophisticated equipment, require careful Congressional scrutiny and oversight in order to ensure that our national security interests are advanced and our allies are protected," the letter read.

In the letter, the Congress members ask the administration officials what U.S. policy goals and interests are advanced by the sale and if any conditions have been placed on it, as well as about potential repercussions for U.S. troops and "friends" in the region should there be political change in Saudi Arabia.

Referring specifically to Israel, the letter states, "America has long been committed to Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME) — that is, its ability to prevail against any combination of regional threats. While we understand the administration has worked productively with Israel to address Israeli security concerns , we would like to know how these arms sales will affect Israel’s QME and what steps we have taken, or are planning to take, to maintain and strengthen Israel’s edge."

Israel reportedly backs the sale, the most expensive arms deal ever, to be spread out over five to 10 years.

The deal includes 84 new F-15 fighter planes, and nearly 200 Apache, Black Hawk and Little Bird helicopters, as well as upgrades for 70 other fighter planes. The deal also would include a satellite-guided "smart bomb" system, as well as anti-ship and anti-radar missiles.

Congress has 30 days to review the deal and could block or amend the sale.
 

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