Senate clears way for $1.15 billion arms
sale to Saudi Arabia
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[September 22, 2016]
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate
cleared the way for a $1.15 billion sale of tanks and other military
equipment to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, defending a frequent partner in
the Middle East recently subject to harsh criticism in Congress.
The Senate voted 71 to 27 to kill legislation that would have stopped
The overwhelming vote stopped an effort led by Republican Senator Rand
Paul and Democratic Senator Chris Murphy to block the deal over concerns
including Saudi Arabia's role in the 18-month-long war in Yemen and
worries that it might fuel an ongoing regional arms race.
The Pentagon announced on Aug. 9 that the State Department had approved
the potential sale of more than 130 Abrams battle tanks, 20 armored
recovery vehicles and other equipment to Saudi Arabia.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency said General Dynamics Corp would
be the principal contractor for the sale.
Paul, Murphy and other opponents of the arms deal were sharply critical
of the Riyadh government during debate before the vote, citing Yemen,
the kingdom's human rights record and its international support for a
conservative form of Islam.
"If you're serious about stopping the flow of extremist recruiting
across this globe, then you have to be serious that the ... brand of
Islam that is spread by Saudi Arabia all over the world, is part of the
problem," Murphy said.
The criticism came days before lawmakers are expected to back another
measure seen as anti-Saudi, a bill that would allow lawsuits against the
country's government by relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.
President Barack Obama has promised to veto that bill, but congressional
leaders say there is a strong chance that lawmakers will override the
veto and let the measure become law. Overriding a presidential veto
requires a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate.
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An Abrams battle tank during a tour of the Joint Systems
Manufacturing Center, Lima Army Tank Plant, in Lima, Ohio, April 23,
2012. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan
In Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is battling Iranian-allied
Houthis, the Houthis have accused the United States of arming and
supporting the Saudis, who intervened on the side of Yemen's exiled
The war has killed over 10,000 people and displaced more than 3
But backers of the deal said Saudi Arabia is an important U.S. ally
in a war-torn region, deserving of U.S. support.
"This motion comes at a singularly unfortunate time and would serve
to convince Saudi Arabia and all other observers that the United
States does not live up to its commitments," Senator Majority Leader
Mitch McConnell said.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Grant McCool and Sandra
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