Key Senator Warns He Might Block Iraq Arms Sales Again
Posted at 11:07 a.m. on July 24, 2014
Menendez arrives in the Capitol for a vote on April 29. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., feuded with the administration over a $6 billion sale of Apache helicopters to Iraq earlier this year, when he played a key role in blocking the deal for a while. On Thursday, he threatened that he might hold up potential future deals — but for a slightly different reason this time.
Before, Menendez was worried that Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki might use the Apaches on civilians. But the overall “reticence” was over whether the Maliki administration could be trusted with the weapons, he said at a hearing of his committee Thursday.
After watching Iraqi troops abandon weapons and equipment under pressure from the jihadist group calling itself the Islamic State, Menendez said the reticence then was justified.
“This chair is not going to be willing to approve [Iraq] arms sales so they can be abandoned and go to the hands of those we are seriously concerned about,” Menendez said.
Menendez was voicing some frustration at his committee not having yet been given a U.S. military assessment of Iraq’s security forces, despite details — pessimistic ones — appearing in the New York Times. Elissa Slotkin, principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs, said a more complete assessment has been provided to military leaders and that Menendez should not base his views off drafts that are leaked.
The administration was critical of the Apache deal being blocked, citing the helicopters as a tool in the government’s battle against terrorists. Although the hold was lifted in January, the effect of the delay on the delivery of the helicopters didn’t end there.