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Audit finds flaws in US arms sales to Gulf

By Daniel Dombey, FT

The US administration has concluded multibillion-dollar arms deals with Gulf states without establishing whether they were in the national interest, according to a congressional investigators’ report seen by the Financial Times.

The report by the Government Accountability Office ex presses concern that “US priorities are not consistently considered before such sales are authorised”.

It comes as the government is stepping up arms sales to Arab states in an effort to contain Iran.

In its audit of authorisations of weapons exports to six Gulf countries, the non-partisan report suggests the administration has failed to ensure the deals are in the national interest.

“As arms transfer authorisations increase to this part of the world, the US government needs to ensure that it reviews requests for arms transfers, especially for significant military equipment, for their foreign policy and national security implications,” it says.

Since Congress is formally notified of such sales – and can, in theory, block them – the GAO report is likely to raise questions over future sales plans.

The Pentagon proposed on Monday to sell weapons worth $4.2bn to Iraq, including 18 F-16 fighter aircraft, Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, laser-guided bombs and reconnaissance equipment.

The administration is also imminently expected to notify Congress of exports to Saudi Arabia that could total $60.5bn – including the sale or refurbishment of more than 150 F-15 jets. Overall, recent and pending US arms sales to the Gulf could total more than $120bn.

The GAO report focuses on 2005-2009, when it says foreign military sales to Gulf countries totalled about $22bn.

In its account of 15 commercial sales and 13 foreign military sales, the report finds the state department “did not document how it applied criteria to review arms transfers”.

The state department acknowledges that this could be improved, although it dis­agrees with the GAO’s concern that US priorities were not consistently considered.

The report also notes the case presented by US officials that arms sales to Gulf states “support the US de fence industrial base”, and represent “a key component of the US security relationship” with the region.

But a congressional aide says: “Some members are likely to view this report as raising further questions about the $60.5bn Saudi deal.”

Israel was consulted on this export agreement and assured that it will retain a significant military edge over the Saudis.

Consequently, the transaction is unlikely to be overturned on Capitol Hill, which would require veto-proof majorities in both houses of Congress.

The Pentagon said the proposed arms sales to Iraq would make Baghdad “a more valuable partner in an important area of the world as well as supporting Iraq’s legitimate [self-defence] needs”.

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