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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Pro-Israel representatives try to block arms sale to Saudis

The Washington Post is reporting that several representatives who are known to be pro-Israel (my addition, not the Post's) are going to try to block the Bush administration's proposed arms sale to 'our friends, the Saudis.'
But Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who was briefed on the deal Tuesday, said he had several reservations. "This is not a sale at Macy's that you go in and buy a bunch of stuff. There are a complex set of relationships behind it, and while it's very desirable to have the Saudis and others recognize that Iran is an existential threat, there is also a degree of responsibility that they have to show on broader U.S. foreign policy interests," he said in an interview.

In the context of the arms deals, Lantos said the oil-rich countries should use windfall profits from high oil prices to cover the expenses of Iraqi refugees who have flooded Jordan. Saudi Arabia should not try to re-broker reconciliation between Palestinian moderates and militants, he added, and Qatar should look at the television network al-Jazeera's role in the region.

Reps. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) and Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) said yesterday that they will introduce a joint resolution of disapproval to block the deals when Congress is formally notified. They have seven Democratic co-sponsors.

In an interview, Weiner said any arms proposal would find broad bipartisan opposition on the Hill. "The reputation of the Saudis has taken quite a beating since 9/11, and despite the fact that the administration has done everything to portray them as part of the moderate Arab world, members of Congress of both parties are increasingly skeptical."

Under the Arms Export Control Act of 1976, Congress must approve major arms sales. In 1986, the threat of a joint resolution of disapproval played a role in persuading the Reagan administration to cut back an arms package to Saudi Arabia.

Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), a senior member of the House Foreign Relations committee who was also briefed last week, said a pivotal issue will be whether Israel maintains the "qualitative military edge" in the region.

Arms experts called for a serious debate on the quality and quantity of weapons going to the Gulf states. "This administration does not have an arms sales policy, except to sell, sell, sell," said Daryl G. Kimball of the Arms Control Association. "That approach in the Middle East can be like throwing gasoline on a brush fire."

Human Rights Watch said the arms deals would undermine long-term U.S. goals in the Middle East. "This will reduce pressure on Egypt and the Arab states to reform their politics. It's another case of trying to purchase stability at the expense of liberty," said Washington director Tom Malinowski.
Lest you think that opposition will be limited to Democrats, the Post notes that many members of Congress are displeased by the Saudis' being 'unhelpful' (which is putting it mildly) in Iraq.

Given that this Congress has already put 'our friends, the Egyptians' on notice that their behavior is not acceptable, it would not be surprising to see it do the same to 'our friends, the Saudis.' Let's hope they do it.

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