WASHINGTON -- Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif., moved to block part of the administration's proposed $7.3 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, but said he did not know if his resolution would make it to the floor.
Cranston's action late Thursday came as something of a surprise because leading critics of the sale, as well as other congressional sources and administration officials, have said they did not believe Congress would try to block the deal.
Rather, they said, it was more likely opponents of arms sales to the Saudis would make their effort early next year when the Bush administration plans to announce a larger weapons deal with the desert kingdom.
The administration notified Congress of the pending sale Sept. 27, giving it 30 days from then to act on a resolution of disapproval blocking all or parts of it.
Cranston, with Sens. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., Paul Simon, D-Ill., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., as co-sponsors, filed a resolution of disapproval seeking to block sales of several key weapons in the package -- TOW II anti-armor missiles, M-1A2 tanks, Apache attack helicopters and multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS).
Asked about the resolution's chances, Cranston said it would be 'tough with the limited time getting stuff up and debated' and he was not sure if the measure would make it to the floor before Oct. 19, when Congress hopes to adjourn.
'We're on a very tight schedule,' he said in an interview.
Without a similar resolution in the House and an uncertain future in the Senate, the measure likely will serve more as a symbol of congressional opposition to arms for the Saudis than as a serious effort to block the sale.
The administration had planned to sell Saudi Arabia $21 billion in arms to help it mount a defense against Iraq but decided to divide the sale in response to congressional criticism that the weapons would erode Israel's 'qualitative edge' in weaponry and could fall into hostile hands.
Although the criticism continued when administration officials ventured to Capitol Hill last week to defend the $7.3 billion sale, congressional sources said the complaints were mainly aimed at influencing the second arms package.
Rep. Larry Smith, D-Fla., one of Israel's strongest supporters in Congress, said earlier this week, 'The reality of it is that if a resolution of disapproval were filed, we would not have sufficient time to get it to the floor.'