The Bush administration, facing congressional resistance to a huge military sale, has scaled back its initial Saudi Arabia arms package to around $10 billion, sources said Saturday.
The White House has announced that it will send Congress a request early this week seeking a two-phase arms sale to the Saudis."We want to get something that people will clearly support," said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "You want to package it such a way that it helps the Saudis and it's politically possible here."
The details were still being worked out over the weekend, but the price tag was expected to be in the neighborhood of $10 billion for that phase, according to two administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Saudi Arabia agreed to a formulation that would involve an immediate package of "things that are readily available in the U.S. inventory" and more arms to be requested of Congress early next year, officials said.
The first phase is expected to include items that the administration can prove will have immediate use and delivery - such as Tow anti-tank missiles, Patriot anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems and F-15 fighter jets, according to sources familiar with the deal.
However, one official closely involved in the policy insisted that the items in the first package were not yet decided. The source said the contents depended on three criteria: things the Saudis want, what Congress will support and what U.S. industry can quickly provide.
"We have not finalized the package" and will not do so before Monday, the official said.
Saudi Arabian Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan was at the White House on Friday, talking with National Security Council officials to sign off on the concept.
President Bush initially planned to expand arms sales to a reported $21 billion, up from the $2.3 billion request he earlier sent Congress, to help the Saudis bolster defenses against potential aggression from Iraq.
The Saudis are host to the bulk of the 150,000 troops the Bush administration has sent to the region.
But the proposal ran into heavy opposition in Congress. Several lawmakers who met with Bush at the White House on Friday expressed their concerns at the size of the package.