Robert Menendez, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, has held back on supporting the lease and sale
of several dozen Apache helicopters to the government of Prime
Minister Nuri al-Maliki without certain assurances.
Menendez' concerns have centered around how Washington can ensure
that security forces under Maliki, a Shi'ite increasingly at odds
with minority Sunnis in Iraq, use the helicopters prudently. He is
also concerned about whether officials are keeping Congress
sufficiently informed about efforts to ensure Iraq doesn't permit
Iran to ship weapons to Syria across Iraqi airspace.
"The administration is now addressing concerns first raised in July
that required responses before this sale could proceed," said Adam
Sharon, a spokesman for the committee. "Provided these issues are
sufficiently addressed, Chairman Menendez will be ready to move
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner called for the
Obama administration to do more to help Iraq battle insurgency but
stopped short of calling for U.S. troops to return to Iraq.
"The president himself ought to take a more active role in dealing
with the issues in Iraq," Boehner told reporters.
"We need to get equipment to the Iraqis, and other services that
would help them battle this counterterrorism effort that they're
attempting to do. There are things that we can do to help the Iraqis
that do not involve putting U.S. troops on the ground."
Two years after it pulled all U.S. troops from Iraq, the United
States is working to speed up shipments of Hellfire missiles,
surveillance aircraft and other gear that Maliki has requested to
help Iraqi forces rebuff the al Qaeda comeback in Anbar province,
where the conflict in neighboring Syria appears to be feeding
increased militant activity.
In late October, just before Maliki made a high-profile visit to
Washington, Menendez and other leading senators told President
Barack Obama in a letter that Maliki must do more to reach out to
opponents and to resist Iranian influence.
Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator John McCain, senior Republicans
who also signed that letter, said the United States must re-engage
in Iraq or risk undermining the security gains that had been made
during years of U.S. combat.
"We're about to lose everything we fought for," Graham said on the
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After Maliki sent Menendez a three-page letter — which did not
address the request for helicopters or other military equipment
directly — and as the situation in Anbar looked more dire, Menendez
received a call on Tuesday from Deputy Secretary of State Bill
Burns, Senate aides said.
According to the aides, Burns assured Menendez that the State
Department was working urgently to provide the committee the
assurances it had requested as a requirement for supporting the
helicopter delivery once Congress receives formal notification.
A possible shift in Menendez' position was first reported by the New
York Times. The State Department is required to notify Congress of
any arms sales above a certain amount.
The State Department declined to comment on officials' communication
"The administration would certainly support providing Apaches,
especially given the situation on the ground," State Department
spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. "Obviously, that is something
we are working with Congress on."
Even if the Apache deliveries are approved, they won't be provided
to Iraq immediately, so they might not make any difference in the
conflict in Anbar.
Senator Carl Levin, another leading Democrat, warned that the impact
of U.S. military sales was limited in Iraq's growing conflict.
"While an ongoing relationship is in our interests, no amount of
military equipment from us will protect the Iraqi people if their
government continues to place sectarian goals ahead of sound
governance," he said.
(Reporting by Missy Ryan, Patricia Zengerle, Richard Cowan, Eric
Beech and David Lawder; editing by Jonathan Oatis, Dan Grebler and
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