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US to okay record $60 bn arms sale

world Updated: Sep 15, 2010 00:42 IST
Ewen MacAskill
Ewen MacAskill
Hindustan Times
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The US Congress is poised to give its approval to the biggest arms deal in US history when it signs off on weapons sales to Saudi Arabia worth an estimated $60 billion.

The sale, under negotiation since 2007, is aimed mainly at bolstering Saudi defences against Iran, which the US suspects will achieve a nuclear weapons capability within the next few years. The transfer of advanced technology, mainly planes, is to provide Saudi Arabia with air superiority over Iran.

The Obama administration is due to send the deal to Congress in the next fortnight. The Senate and House then have 30 days to amend, cancel or approve the deal.

Members of Congress have been notoriously difficult in regard to arms deals with Saudi Arabia over years, partly because of lobbying by Israel in the 1980s and 90s and partly as a reaction to the 9/11 attacks orchestrated by the Saudi-born Al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden. Congress has amended and even blocked arms deals with the Saudis in the past.

But Washington-based analysts say such concerns will be overridden because of the greater worries about Iran.

The Saudis have agreed to an initial $30 billion in sales, with another $30 billion still under discussion. The initial figure to be sent to Congress for review may be $30 billion for approval this year.

Michael Knights, an analyst, predicted a relatively smooth ride from Congress: “The deal has a much better chance of being approved with limited or no modifications.”

To help ease passage through Congress, Obama is to put the emphasis on jobs, an important consideration at a time of high unemployment in the US.