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Monday, September 13, 2010

Obama to notify Congress of $60 billion arms sale to Saudis this week or next

President Obama will notify Congress next week of his intention to sell $60 billion in weapons to 'our friends the Saudis' and will attempt to sell the package to Congress as a jobs creation bill. But there's much more to the package than $60 billion in weapons systems, and it sounds like the total package will eventually exceed $100 billion making it the largest US arms sale ever.
The $60 billion in fighter jets and helicopters is the top-line amount requested by the Saudis, even though the kingdom is likely to commit initially to buying only about half that amount.

In a notification to Congress, expected to be submitted this week or next, the administration will authorize the Saudis to buy as many as 84 new F-15 fighters, upgrade 70 more, and purchase three types of helicopters—70 Apaches, 72 Black Hawks and 36 Little Birds, officials said.

The notification triggers a congressional review. Lawmakers could push for changes or seek to impose conditions, and potentially block the deal, though that is not expected.

On top of the $60 billion package of fighter jets and helicopters, U.S. officials are discussing a potential $30 billion package to upgrade Saudi Arabia's naval forces. An official described these as "discreet, bilateral conversations" in which no agreement has yet been reached. That deal could include littoral combat ships, surface vessels intended for operations close to shore, the official said.

Talks are also underway to expand Saudi Arabia's ballistic-missile defenses. The U.S. is encouraging the Saudis to buy systems known as THAAD—Terminal High Altitude Defense—and to upgrade its Patriot missiles to reduce the threat from Iranian rockets. U.S. officials said it was unclear how much this package would be worth.
The Wall Street Journal notes that Israel is on board with this huge arms purchase, even quoting Israel's ambassador to the United States Michael Oren. But Israel concluded a long time ago that there is no point in opposing arms deals with the Saudis - they will go through anyway. Packaging this one as jobs creation is probably a way of ensuring that it goes through quickly and without a lot of scrutiny (would you want to be portrayed as holding up a jobs package in this economy?).

What could go wrong?


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