Lawmakers Renew Opposition to Arms Sale to Saudis

Thursday, 17 Jan 2008 07:53 AM

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A group of lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives is renewing objections to any sale of sophisticated U.S. precision-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, 51 Democrats and one Republican have signed on so far to a resolution disapproving of the proposed transaction, which is part of a larger $20 billion military sale to Saudi Arabia and Gulf states aimed at countering threats from Iran.

While leaders say they hope to attract support from minority Republicans across the political aisle, the signature campaign for the resolution is mostly an effort by Democrats in the House.

The two men behind it, Florida congressmen Robert Wexler and New York representative Anthony Weiner, first signaled their intentions last year after the Bush administration communicated its plans for the military sale.

Under provisions of a 1976 law covering arms exports, Congress may reject any large sale if there is enough backing to do so.

Representative Weiner points to times in the past when Congress was able to block or reduce the size and scope of arms deals for Saudi Arabia, and renews assertions that Saudi Arabia has not done enough to help the U.S. with everything from oil prices to counter-terrorism efforts and Middle East peace.

"If it is somehow to create a more stable environment in the Middle East we have seen that there could not be a more volatile time to be introducing high-technology weapons into that part of the world. If we have learned nothing about our experience in Iraq recently is that very often people we perceive as being our allies one day we arm and they turn out to be our enemies further down the road," he said.

Congressman Wexler says that on a number of fronts, the sale of the bombs, called JDAM for Joint Direct Attack Munitions, would not be in U.S. interests. "Will this arms sale increase democracy in the Middle East, will it increase democracy in Saudi Arabia? No. Will this arms sale increase the opportunity for the advancement of human rights in Saudi Arabia [and] in the broader Middle East? No. Will this arms sale increase stability in the Middle East, in the Gulf states? No," he said.

Wexler describes as ludicrous the suggestion that the JDAM Saudi Arabia will help increase security for Israel, in the face of an Iran the Bush administration maintains has been seeking nuclear weapons.

The administration says steps will be taken to ensure that the weapons for Saudi Arabia would not pose a threat to Israel or weaken Israel's qualitative regional military advantage.

Wexler objects to what he calls Bush administration attempts to couple the question of U.S. military support for Israel with arms sales to Saudi Arabia. "I am offended deeply that the administration would couple anything to do with Saudi Arabia, which is non-Democratic nation that ignores and violates the most basic elements of human rights, to Israel which is a Democratic nation, a stalwart ally of the U.S., which is a model of human rights in the region," he said.

Congressman Weiner urges President Bush to look again at the sale, asserting that Saudi Arabia has done little to pressure Iran, and continues to lag on counter-terrorism steps. "Repeatedly, and on and on, we have seen Saudi Arabia be the source of exporting more and more terrorism. At least 50 percent of the budget of Hamas comes from Saudi Arabia and [they have] funneled more than $4 billion to finance terrorism in the territories since 2000. If the idea is that this is the face of the moderate Arab world, then simply moderate is not enough and President Bush needs to understand," he said.

So far, the only minority member to add his signature to the Democratic-sponsored is North Carolina's Walter Jones, who has been virtually alone among Republicans in criticizing President Bush's policy in Iraq.

The administration's formal notification to Congress of the planned sale came as President Bush visited Saudi Arabia, after a stop in Iraq, to underscore his commitment to helping to counter any efforts by Iran to destabilize the region.

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