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US military sale to Saudi Arabia moves ahead

Some members of Congress have grown critical of US support to the Saudi government, some of it revolving around Saudi Arabia's involvement in the Yemeni civil war.
KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images

The US government approved a new possible sale of military-related maintenance services to Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

Saudi Arabia requested to buy roughly $500 million in maintenance and support services for the Royal Saudi Land Forces Aviation Command’s helicopter fleet. The purchase would include component repairs, installation of engineering change proposals, aircraft simulator logistics, training and more, according to a State Department statement.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency informed Congress of the sale Thursday. Legislators have 30 days from the notification to block or modify the sale before the president can finalize it.

The State Department said the sale will help bolster Saudi Arabia and stability in the region.

“This proposed sale will support U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that continues to be an important force for political stability and economic growth in the Middle East,” the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in the statement.

The US-Saudi military relationship has come under scrutiny in Washington. Many Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans are critical of US support to the Saudi military. Much of the disagreement focuses on the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen. The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi as well as Saudi’s record on women’s rights and the role of some Saudi citizens in the 9-11 attacks have also been cited by lawmakers and activists calling for more scrutiny or conditions on arms sales.

President Joe Biden promised a more balanced approach to Saudi Arabia during the election. In January, the Biden administration paused a Trump-era munitions sale to Saudi Arabia. In February, however, the administration said it would continue to help the Saudis defend against attacks from the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. 

Saudi Arabia has been a longtime ally of the United States, including with regard to concerns about Iran's malign behavior in the region.