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Friday, January 7, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Congress could restrict $60 billion tech package for Saudis

WASHINGTON — Congress could modify U.S. plans to sell up to $60 billion in aircraft and munitions to Saudi Arabia.


A congressional report asserted that the House and Senate remain concerned over Washington's plans to export 84 F-15 fighter-jets and more than 120 combat helicopters to Saudi Arabia. The Congressional Research Service said lawmakers could hold hearings in 2011 that could result in restrictions on the Saudi project, Middle East Newsline reported.

"Members of the 112th Congress may seek to exercise additional oversight of U.S. military training, arms sales, and counterterrorism cooperation with Saudi Arabia through hearings or briefings with administration officials," the report, titled "The Middle East: Selected key issues and options for the 112th Congress," said.

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This marked the first indication that the new Congress, divided between a Republican House and a Democratic Senate, could resume an examination of the $60 billion Saudi project. In November, the Saudi request for the F-15s, AH-64D attack helicopters and S-70 utility helicopters did not meet congressional resistance.

The report said Congress remains concerned over the export of advanced U.S. platforms to the Saudi military. One issue was whether the arms deal would affect the military balance between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

"The U.S. government is pursuing an initiative to supply Israel with fifth-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, which, when delivered, would maintain Israel’s status as having the most advanced fighter aircraft in the region," the report, dated Jan. 3, said.

Still, CRS did not expect the administration of President Barack Obama to agree to any restriction on the Saudi arms deal. The administration has already been overseeing new U.S. military and security programs, particularly in the protection of energy facilities.

"With regard to the proposed arms sales, Congress retains the option of passing legislation to block or modify an arms sale at any time up to the point of delivery of the items involved," the report said. "Such an action, if taken, would, as with a joint resolution of disapproval, be subject to presidential veto."

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