Pentagon officially tells Congress of $60B arms sale to Saudi Arabia

The Department of Defense on Wednesday officially notified Congress of a weapons sale to Saudi Arabia that could be worth as much as $60 billion.

The weapons sale would be the largest in U.S. history if Saudi Arabia purchases all the weapons and hardware included in the proposal. The proposed sale includes Boeing Co. F-15 fighter jets and Longbow Apache helicopters, Raytheon’s advanced radar and Blackhawk helicopters built by Sikorsky, a unit of United Technologies Corp.

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Congress has 30 days, or by Nov. 20, from the formal notification to back or oppose the sale. Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Washington on Nov. 15 after the midterm election. 

Pentagon and Department of State officials on Wednesday indicated that the Obama administration is not expecting Congress to block the arms sale.

Both the Defense Department and the State Department conducted “extensive” consultations with congressional panels with jurisdiction over the sale, said Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro. Those consultations have been “adequate” and Congress is not expected to be a “barrier” to the completion of the sale, Shapiro said at a State Department press briefing on Wednesday.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) in September expressed opposition to the potential arms deal with Saudi Arabia before the Obama administration officially confirmed the proposed sale. In a letter to President Obama, Weiner said Saudi Arabia does not deserve U.S. aid because it has a history of financing terrorism. Reps. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) and Chris Carney (D-Pa.) also signed Weiner's letter.

The proposed arms sale is intended to help Saudi Arabia counter threats from Iran, but also protect the Saudi Kingdom from regional terrorism threats. The U.S. weapons are intended to protect Saudi Arabia “in a dangerous neighborhood,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro sought to tamp any concerns that Israel would object to the arms deal. He said that the arms sale would not diminish Israel’s “qualitative military edge.”

He also said that the sale will enhance “regional security” rather than destabilize it and start a conventional arms race.

Alexander Vershbow, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, said the arms sale is intended to strengthen the United States’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. It would also allow the Saudi Arabian military to better operate with U.S. forces.

The upper limit of the deal would be $60 billion, the U.S. officials said Wednesday. Saudi Arabia may end up spending less than that, Vershbow and Shapiro indicated.