Congress has until Nov. 20 to stop the sale before the Defense Department and companies proceed into more detailed talks with Saudi Arabia on contracts that, if executed, could extend a decade. Congress will review the proposed sale during its scheduled Nov. 15-19 post-election session.
The proposed sale “represents a powerful symbol of the robust strategic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia,” Colin Kahl, deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, said in an interview. He said the Saudis instead could have bought equipment from Britain, France, Russia or China.
The sale reflects a common view of threats facing Saudi Arabia and the U.S. that undermine stability in the Middle East, the world’s biggest oil-producing region. The Obama administration has failed to persuade Iran to curb its missile and nuclear programs, and militant groups, including those linked to al-Qaeda, continue to operate in the region.
1992 Weapons Sale
Saudi Arabia’s last significant U.S. weapons purchase was for 72 F-15s in 1992, a transaction valued at as much as $9 billion. The final installment of those planes was delivered in November 1999. Saudi Arabia plans to upgrade and replace some of its older aircraft with new purchases, so the overall number of F-15s on the ground probably won’t increase, Kahl said.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil supplier, used F-15s and Apache helicopters in late 2009 to fight Muslim Shiite rebels who crossed the border from Yemen and seized territory inside the kingdom.
Separately, Yemen is battling al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which is using its base in the country to carry out attacks on Saudi Arabia and Western targets, such as a failed December 2009 attempt to blow up a Detroit bound U.S. airliner.
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