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Congressional letter questioning Saudi arms sales gets 198 signatures

Congressional letter questioning Saudi arms sales gets 198 signatures

A joint letter demanding more information about the Obama administration’s proposed $60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia was sent to top administration officials on Friday with the signatures of 198 lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.

The letter, first reported on The Cable, was coordinated jointly by outgoing House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) and incoming chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). Addressed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, it spells out a long list of concerns lawmakers have about the sale and demands answers to several questions about how the deal fits into U.S. national security strategy. The lawmakers question whether Saudi Arabia is acting in conjunction with U.S. interests and whether the deal has enough checks and balances to ensure U.S. as well as Israeli interests.

"We are writing to raise concerns and pose a number of strategic questions about the impact such sales would have on the national security interests of the United States and our allies," the lawmakers wrote. The deal would be the largest arms sale in U.S. history and another $30 billion sale of Naval technology to the Kingdom is also said to be in the works.

The Obama administration defends the deal as vital, and Israel has raised few objections. But although lawmakers haven’t said they will move to kill the sale, they aren’t forswearing that course of action, either.

"There are a lot of questions to be answered on this," a GOP House aide told The Cable. "If Israel doesn’t strongly object that doesn’t mean it’s not problematic."

Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro, whose office was key in negotiating the deal, told reporters on Oct. 20 that he did not anticipate strong resistance to the deal on Capitol Hill.

"Congress is a big place and there are a lot of members, and there may be differing opinions about the sale. But we feel comfortable that we have done adequate pre-consultations with members of Congress that there will not be a barrier to completing this sale," Shapiro said.