WASHINGTON — The White House has approved long-pending fighter jet sales to Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait, the chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker confirmed Wednesday.

The package reportedly includes 72 Boeing F-15E Strike Eagles for Qatar and up to 40 Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets for Kuwait. Bahrain's package includes Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters. 

The cases have gone forward to the Hill, where relevant committees will review them ahead of a formal notification, Corker, R-Tenn., told Defense News. The Pentagon and State Department had already cleared the sales.

"I'm glad where we've gotten to the point where the notification is coming to Congress. We've been pushing for it for some time," Corker said. 

Kuwait and Qatar first requested those potential sales more than two years ago. 

US lawmakers have had a keen interest in the sales, and Corker said earlier this month that they would go through following the consummation of the US-Israel memorandum of understanding. Israeli officials were concerned with preserving its qualitative military edge, which the US is legally mandated to protect.

The news was first reported Wednesday by Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with strong ties to industry. According to Thompson, the F-15 sale to Qatar would be worth about $4 billion to Boeing's defense business if all options are exercised. Qatar requested 36 fighters with the option to purchase an additional 36.

The F/A-18 part of the package — reportedly consisting of a request for 28 Super Hornets and an option for 12 more — would be worth about $3 billion if all options are exercised. 

Ahead of the sale, Boeing was in danger of shutting down its 40-year-old F-15 production line in St. Louis, Missouri, had the sales not come through.

"In my opinion our national interest is being served by pursuing these sales; That always comes first, but a by-product of that is we are keeping production lines functioning in case we need to utilize those in the future," Corker said.

"These countries are buying equipment that is interoperable with our equipment which gives us the opportunity to deal with crises as they occur," Corker said.

Israel's objections to the sale stemmed from Qatar's support for extreme Sunni Islamic organizations. Israel also registered concern, but not objection, to the Kuwait sales.

The sale includes caveats for Bahrain, which Corker described as "rather vague, and it has to do with progress they have to make internally."

"It doesn't specify the type of progress and that will be more clearly defined in conversations between our ambassador there and the country," Corker said. "It's a step in the right direction, it keeps the sale alive and hopefully we can work through the issues."

Hawkish lawmakers such as Senate Armed Services (SASC) Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., and SASC member Lindsey Graham, had criticized the White House in recent months over the delays, saying the US should help its allies in the region as it asks them to shoulder more responsibility for the region's security.

Barbara Opall-Rome in Tel Aviv and Aaron Mehta contributed to this report.

Email:    jgould@defensenews.com     

Twitter:  @ReporterJoe   

Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.

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