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The US Congress is poised to give its approval to the biggest arms deal in US history when it signs off on weapons sales to Saudi Arabia worth an estimated $60bn.

The sale, under negotiation since 2007, is aimed mainly at bolstering Saudi defences against Iran, which the US suspects will achieve a nuclear weapons capability within the next few years. The transfer of advanced technology, mainly planes, is to provide Saudi Arabia with air superiority over Iran.

The Obama administration is due to send the deal to Congress in the next fortnight. The Senate and House then have 30 days to amend, cancel or approve the deal. If approved, the Obama administration can then take the final steps towards completing the deal.

Members of Congress have been notoriously difficult in regard to arms deals with Saudi Arabia over the last three decades, partly because of lobbying by Israel in the 1980s and 90s and partly as a reaction to the 9/11 attacks orchestrated by the Saudi-born al-Qaida leader, Osama bin Laden. They have also raised concerns over the lack of human rights and freedom for women in Saudi Arabia. Congress has amended and even blocked arms deals with the Saudis in the past.

But Washington-based analysts say such concerns will be overridden because of the greater worries about Iran.

A US defence official told Reuters today that the US and Saudi Arabia are discussing a package that includes 84 new F-15 fighter jets, upgrading another 70 of them as well as buying 72 Black Hawk helicopters built by Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corporation.

The two sides are also discussing a package for the kingdom’s navy.

The Saudis have agreed to an initial $30bn in sales, with another $30bn still under discussion. The initial figure to be sent to Congress for review may be $30bn for approval this year.

Source: Ewen MacAskill for Guardian.co.uk.

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