(AFP) – May 13, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) — A group of Democratic Senators Tuesday threatened to block a multi-million dollar US arms deal with Saudi Arabia, unless the kingdom ups oil production and helps cut soaring gasoline prices.
The senators introduced a resolution of disapproval on the arms sale, as President George W. Bush prepared to head for Saudi Arabia, partly on a mission to contain runaway oil prices.
"We are saying to the Saudis that, if you don't help us, why should we be helping you?" said New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer.
"We are saying that we need real relief, and we need it quickly. You need our arms, but we need you to cooperate and not strangle American consumers."
The resolution, expected to be fast-tracked to the senate floor, would prohibit the mammoth arms sale unless Saudi Arabia agrees to increase oil production by one million barrels per day.
Schumer, speaking as the price of a barrel of crude oil hit a record 126.98 dollars, said the extra Saudi oil could bring down the price of a gallon of gasoline at the pump by 50 to 75 cents.
"We're losing our wealth. Our economy is heading south. That is the highest priority, not the Saudis getting the top-notch weapons," Schumer said.
The American Automobile Association said the average price of a gallon of gas in the United States hit 3.73 dollars on Tuesday.
The United States offered last year to sell Saudi Arabia and Gulf states a 20 billion dollar arms package, as part of a wider regional program aimed at deterring Iran and Syria, Lebanon's Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda.
The resolution specifically mentions 1.4 billion dollars in arms, including a sale of 900 kits to Saudi Arabia, which turn conventional bombs into laser-guided explosives or Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM).
Schumer said a motion of disapproval needed only 51 votes in the 100 seat Senate to pass and could not be filibustered.
Bush was heading to the Middle East on Tuesday, for a tour which commemorates the 75th anniversary of the formal establishment of US-Saudi relations.
The White House has said he will stress US concerns about soaring oil prices when he meets King Abdullah on May 16, and is expected to press the Saudis to boost their oil production as a way of curbing spiralling fuel prices.
Schumer's fellow Democrat, Senator Joseph Biden, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations committee, said he shared his colleague's "deep frustration" with Saudi Arabia, but did not favor arbitrarily cutting off arms sales.
"With Iran's allies, Hezbollah and Hamas becoming dangerously assertive, threatening to cut off arms sales would only play into Iran's hands and add to regional tensions," Biden said in a statement.
"It's a move that could do long-term damage to our relationships and our own security, with no guarantee that it would actually bring down prices at the pump. Saudi Arabia would just buy its arms from other countries."
As Bush headed for the Middle East, the senate defied the president and passed a bill to halt US deposits into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a move that will put an extra 70,000 barrels of oil onto the market a day.
The move, passed by a 97-1 veto proof majority, came after the president refused to stop filling the emergency stockpile, which Democrats say is 97 percent full.
"At a time when gas prices are nearing four dollars a gallon and oil is over 120 dollars per barrel, it makes no sense to be taking oil out of our supply chain," said Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan.
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