Obama administration approves sale of Boeing jets to Kuwait, Qatar

By CHUCK RAASCH | The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Tribune News Service) | Published: September 29, 2016

WASHINGTON ―The administration of President Barack Obama has approved $7 billion in long-stalled sales of Boeing Co. fighter jets to Kuwait and Qatar, a decision that could preserve thousands of jobs in the St. Louis area.
The deal had been delayed for more than two years, amid concerns by Israel that the planes posed a threat to that nation's security.
But members of Missouri's delegation had long touted the sale as a jobs boost for the St. Louis region, where F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and F-15 Eagles are produced.
The Navy also is considering building an additional 14 or more Super Hornets to replace aging ones and add to the Pentagon's strike-force capabilities, although funding for them has been caught in the ongoing debate over spending bills now stalled in Congress.
Reuters reported earlier this month that the sale had essentially been approved and that the next step would be notifying members of Congress.
U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, was among lawmakers applauding the decision. The fighter jet sales, she said, "will help our allies located within a volatile region fight the growing threats of Islamic extremism."
"These jets are also critical to the St. Louis manufacturing base and support 5,000 families whose loved ones build these jets, as well as thousands of additional jobs across Missouri," she said. "I am thrilled that this sale was approved, which will keep the Super Hornet production line in St. Louis running into 2020."
U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, agreed.
"The administration's approval of additional foreign sales of Boeing F-15 Eagles and Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets will not only strengthen our Gulf allies, it will protect thousands of skilled manufacturing jobs in north St. Louis County and at Boeing suppliers across Missouri and Illinois," Clay said in a statement.
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said via Twitter, "I've been proud to back the F-15 and F-18 programs and the thousands of jobs they support, and will continue to do so."
The sales were delayed amid concerns raised by Israel, Washington's closest Middle East ally. U.S. officials have also criticized Qatar for alleged ties to armed Islamist groups.
Earlier this month, the U.S. pledged to provide $38 billion in military assistance to Israel over the next decade, the largest such aid package in history.
The state of Qatar requested to buy at least 36 of the F-15 air-superiority jets, and possibly 72. Boeing is busy building F-15s for Saudi Arabia, and those orders would keep production lines in north St. Louis County running into 2019. The Qatari orders, worth $4 billion, would extend that into the early 2020s.
Kuwait had requested 28 F/A-18 Super Hornet attack jets, with an option for 12 more. Boeing has enough orders to keep that line running into 2018. The $3 billion Kuwaiti order, combined with orders requested by the Navy, would extend production into 2020.
Boeing employs nearly 15,000 people in the St. Louis area. Boeing has never specified the number employed on the fighter programs, but it reaches several thousand.
The White House also approved a sale of 17 Lockheed F-16 fighters to Bahrain, Reuters reported.
The sales will be announced formally once the informal 40-day congressional notification period has ended. Then lawmakers will have 30 days to block the sales, although such action is rare.
The approval of the fighter jet sales comes as the White House tries to bolster relations with Persian Gulf Arab allies who want to upgrade their military capabilities. They fear the United States is drawing closer to Iran, their archrival, after Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers last year.
Qatar, home to the largest U.S. air base in the Middle East, and Kuwait have ramped up military spending after uprisings across the Arab world and amid rising tension between Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab states and Iran, the region's Shiite power.
Both Qatar and Kuwait are part of a 34-nation alliance announced by Saudi Arabia in December aimed at countering Islamic State and al-Qaida militants in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan.
Sources said both the U.S. State Department and Pentagon had largely agreed to the deals some time ago but had been awaiting final approval from the White House.
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