A group of U.S. lawmakers has introduced legislation aimed at blocking President Bush's plan to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, arguing that the proposal would be destabilizing to the region. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
The arms sales package, which could exceed $20 billion, requires congressional approval.
Although the proposal is not expected to be formally considered by Congress until after its August recess, a number of lawmakers are already signaling their opposition to it.
Among them is Congressman Mike Ferguson of New Jersey, a member of President Bush's Republican Party.
"I am deeply disappointed that the Bush administration decided to begin negotiations with Saudi Arabia on a $20 billion arms deal," he said. "It is our hope that Congress will take every step necessary to keep this transaction from happening."
Ferguson and a number of Democrats are backing legislation to block the deal. They question Saudi Arabia's commitment to fighting terrorism. They note that Iraqi officials have accused Saudi Arabia of failing to prevent would-be suicide bombers from crossing the Saudi border into Iraq, and that most of the hijackers in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were Saudi.
"It is no accident that 15 of the 19 terrorists on 9/11 [September 11, 2001] were Saudi, or that the majority of foreigners entering Iraq to fight Americans are also Saudi," said Congressman Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat. "We must also never forget that arms supplies to the Saudis may very well be turned against our ally Israel and moreover, could easily end up in the hands of terrorists."
At the White House, spokesman Tony Snow was asked by reporters whether the United States would try to get assurances from Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States involved in the deal that they would not use the weapons against Israel. Snow responded that he assumes that would be a given.
But Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat, is not convinced.
"The Saudis said before they entered the World Trade Organization they would end the boycott against Israel," he said. "They have not done so. There is no reason to believe that we can believe that the Saudis in this instance will act in any more responsible manner."
Opponents of the arms sale proposal spoke as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arrived in Saudi Arabia to discuss the deal with Saudi officials.
Administration officials say the package is aimed at countering Iranian influence in the region.
At a Senate confirmation hearing, President Bush's nominee to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Admiral Michael Mullen, underscored the importance the administration places on the proposed arms sale for regional stability.
"Significant role in terms of regional stability, because I think we need to ensure that our friends in the area are reassured and supported, as we do in many places throughout the world," said Admiral Mullen.
In addition to the planned weapons sales to the Gulf States, the Bush administration package would give Israel $30 billion in U.S. military aid over the next 10 years, and Egypt $13 billion in arms aid over the next decade as well as an economic aid package that is still being negotiated.
The Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Tom Lantos of California, has asked the administration for a briefing on the arms sale package in September.