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Defense Lawyer: Mladic May Not Be Fit to Hear Verdicts

A lawyer for Gen. Ratko Mladic said Monday it is not certain the former Bosnian Serb military commander will show up in a United Nations courtroom when judges deliver their verdicts in his long-running trial for allegedly masterminding atrocities during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war.

 

Mladic’s attorneys have filed a flurry of recent motions to have the ailing 75-year-old’s health assessed before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia announces it decisions Wednesday.

 

He was tried on 11 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

 

Mladic’s trial is the last to end at the ground-breaking tribunal before it closes down by the end of the year. The court last year convicted his political master, former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, on near-identical charges and sentenced to 40 years. Karadzic has appealed.

 

Defendant may die

Defense attorney Dragan Ivetic said lawyers for the former military leader were not attempting to stall the case and have been trying for weeks to have Mladic’s health checked, fearing a court appearance might kill him.

 

“We’ve had a medical doctor that has said, actually based on his diagnosed condition, any form of stress, including a trial proceeding, may increase his chance of having a stroke, a heart attack or dying,” Ivetic told The Associated Press.

 

Judges at the court have so far rejected the lawyers’ requests for doctors to visit Mladic, who survived two strokes and a heart attack before he was arrested and imprisoned in 2011. The former general is under close medical supervision at the United Nations detention facility where he has been held since his arrest.

“General Mladic wants to be present because he believes that he is not guilty,” Ivetic said. “But I don’t know whether the medical circumstances allow him to be present…. That’s why I need a medical doctor to assist us all in finding that information out.”

 

Possible deja vu

The possibility of Mladic dying before the judges deliver their verdicts recalls former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, who died in 2006 before judges could pass judgment in his trial. Milosevic was accused of fomenting violence across the Balkans as Yugoslavia crumbled.

 

Mladic is charged with overseeing atrocities including the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the eastern Bosnian municipality of Srebrenica, the deadly shelling and sniping of Sarajevo and purges of Muslims and Croats early in the war from towns and villages Serbs wanted to turn into part of a Greater Serbia.

 

His lawyers have urged the judges to acquit, arguing that he did not give orders for atrocities and was not even in Srebrenica during the 1995 massacre.

 

It remained unclear if Wednesday’s long-awaited public hearing for announcing the verdicts could go ahead if Mladic does not attend.

Survivors on edge

His absence would be a disappointment to survivors who traveled to The Hague on Monday to watch the culmination of the trial of the man they hold responsible for killing their loved ones.

One of them, Ramiza Burzic, who lost two sons during the Srebrenica massacre, said she is still hunting for the remains of her second son and blames Mladic.

 

“We have only found half of the body of my first son. He was not born without a head and arms,” Burzic said as she prepared to board a flight in Sarajevo. “Mladic was there, and he ordered mass graves to be dug and spread all over Bosnia. His intention was that a mother would never find the whole body of her son in those graves.”

 

Burzic said she expected judges to hand Mladic a life sentence, “so all of his progeny will know what he was doing and what kind of man he was.”

 

The U.N. tribunal has, in the past, convicted officers under Mladic’s command of involvement in the Srebrenica massacre and the deadly campaign of sniping and shelling in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo.

 

If the court does convict Mladic, an appeal is inevitable.

 

“There are many things that give rise to a potential claim for unfair trial that troubled us during the work that we did and that might require additional filings or action,” Ivetic said.

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One in 3 US Rhodes Scholars African-American, Highest Ratio Ever

One-third of the newest crop of Rhodes Scholars from the United States are African-Americans, the most ever elected in a U.S. Rhodes class.

Of the 100 Rhodes Scholars chosen worldwide for advanced study at Oxford in Britain each year, 32 come from the United States, and this time, 10 of those are African Americans. One of them is Simone Askew, the first black female student to head the Corps of Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy.

Other American scholars include a transgender man and students from U.S. colleges that had never had a student win a spot in the Rhodes program.

The Rhodes Scholar program is the most prestigious available to American students, but it had been criticized for excluding women and blacks until the 1970s.

The scholarship program was set up in 1902 by Cecil Rhodes, a wealthy British philanthropist for whom the nation of Rhodesia was named.  After a civil war removed Rhodesia’s white-minority government, that nation was renamed Zimbabwe.  

 

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German Parties at Impasse as Deadline Passes With No Deal

Germany’s would-be coalition partners appeared to have reached an impasse over immigration policy as a self-imposed Sunday evening deadline for agreeing the outlines of a government program passed with no deal.

A deadline of 1700 GMT passed with no announcement being made, suggesting Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens had been unable to agree the painful compromises needed to wrap up talks, which appear set to continue.

The reluctant partners were forced to pursue the three-way tie-up, untested at national level, by voters who deserted the main parties of left and right in a September election, returning a highly fragmented parliament.

Failure could precipitate Germany’s worst political crisis in decades, since the Social Democrats (SPD) have already said they intend to go into opposition after coming second. Options include new elections or a minority government, unprecedented in the country’s post-war history.

“Everyone has to take a success back home,” said Julia Kloeckner, deputy chair of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), highlighting the difficulty of compromise. “People must ask themselves if they are prepared for this to fail over details.”

Strange bedfellows

The tie-up represents Merkel’s only realistic chance of securing a fourth term. But the FDP, freshly returned to parliament after four years in the wilderness, and the Greens, out of power for 12 years, are reluctant to put their hard-won return at risk by alienating their rank-and-file.

“The FDP is now waiting for the Greens and the conservatives to see how far they are prepared to go and if we can then look each other in the eye,” said Greens chairwoman Nicola Beer, suggesting it was now for the others to make concessions.

For Merkel’s own arch-conservative allies in Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), the stakes are existential. The CSU fears that a failure to secure an immigration cap could fuel a far-right surge in a regional election next year, perhaps even unseating the CSU after 60 years in power.

While the FDP continues to demand tax cuts, the trickiest sticking point concerns immigration, where the CSU insists on capping new arrivals at 200,000 a year.

The cap is opposed by the Greens, who also want to preserve a rule allowing successful asylum seekers to bring family members to join them – though the CDU’s Kloeckner implored the Greens to acknowledge this as only a “subsidiary right”.

Failure to reach a deal could lead to a new election, something all the parties are anxious to avoid as they fear this could lead to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) making further gains after surging into parliament in September.

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US Envoy to Russia Slams Moscow’s Pending Curbs on US-funded News Outlets

The U.S. ambassador to Russia on Sunday attacked Moscow’s move toward forcing nine United States government-funded news operations to register as “foreign agents” as “a reach beyond” what the U.S. government did in requiring the Kremlin-funded RT television network to register as such in the United States.

Ambassador Jon Huntsman said the Russian reaction is not “reciprocal at all” and Moscow’s move toward regulation of the news agencies, if it is implemented, would make “it virtually impossible for them to operate” in Russia.

WATCH: Ambassador Jon Huntsman

He said the eight-decade-old Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) under which RT has registered as a foreign agent is aimed at promoting transparency, but does not restrict the television network’s operation in the United States.

Russia’s lower house of parliament approved amendments Wednesday to expand a 2012 law that targets non-governmental organizations, including foreign media. A declaration as a foreign agent would require foreign media to regularly disclose their objectives, full details of finances, funding sources and staffing.

Media outlets also may be required to disclose on their social platforms and internet sites visible in Russia that they are “foreign agents.” The amendments also would allow the extrajudicial blocking of websites the Kremlin considers undesirable.

The Russian Justice Ministry said Thursday it had notified the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and seven separate regional outlets active in Russia they could be affected.

“It isn’t at all similar to what we’re doing under FARA — it’s a reach beyond,” Huntsman said. “And, we just think the principles of free media, in any free society and democracy, are absolutely critical to our strength, health, and well-being. Freedom of speech is part of that. So, that’s why I care about the issue. That’s why we in the embassy care about the issue. And, it’s why we’re going to follow the work that is going on in the Duma and the legislation that is being drafted, very very carefully, because we’re concerned about it.”

The Justice Ministry said the new requirements in Russia were likely to become law “in the near future.”

VOA Director Amanda Bennett said last week that if Russia imposes the new restrictions, “We can’t say at this time what effect this will have on our news-gathering operations within Russia. All we can say is that Voice of America is, by law, an independent, unbiased, fact-based news organization, and we remain committed to those principles.”

RFE/RL President Tom Kent said until the legislation becomes law, “we do not know how the Ministry of Justice will use this law in the context of our work.”

 

Kent said unlike Sputnik and other Russian media operating in the United States, U.S. media outlets operating in Russia do not have access to cable television and radio frequencies.

“Russian media in the U.S. are distributing their programs on American cable television. Sputnik has its own radio frequency in Washington. This means that even at the moment there is no equality,” he said.

Serious blow to freedom

The speaker of Russia’s lower house, the Duma, said last week that foreign-funded media outlets that refused to register as foreign agents under the proposed legislation would be prohibited from operating in the country.

However, since the law’s language is so broad, it potentially could be used to target any foreign media group, especially if it is in conflict with the Kremlin. “We are watching carefully… to see whether it is passed and how it is implemented,” said Maria Olson, a spokeswoman at the U.S. embassy in Moscow.

The Russian amendments, which Amnesty International said would inflict a “serious blow” to media freedom in Russia if they become law, were approved in response to a U.S. accusation that RT executed a Russian-mandated influence campaign on U.S. citizens during the 2016 presidential election, a charge the media channel denies.

The U.S. intelligence community concluded in early 2017 that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed a campaign to undermine American democracy and help real estate mogul Donald Trump win the presidency. A criminal investigation of the interference is underway in the United States, as are numerous congressional probes.

The foreign registration amendments must next be approved by the Russian Senate and then signed into law by Putin.

RT, which is funded by the Kremlin to provide Russia’s perspective on global issues, confirmed last week it met the U.S. Justice Department’s deadline by registering as a foreign agent in the United States.

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Ukraine, Poland Escalate Diplomatic Spat

Ukraine has summoned the Polish ambassador in Kyiv after Poland denied entry to a Ukrainian official in an escalation of a diplomatic spat over the two neighbors’ troubled past.

Poland’s decision to refused entry on Saturday to the head of Ukraine’s commemoration commission, Svyatoslav Sheremet, was in response to a ban imposed earlier this year by Kyiv on the exhumation of Poles killed in Ukraine during World War II, Polish state news agency PAP reported.

“The Ukrainian side has complained that Mr. Sheremet was not allowed into Poland,” Poland’s ambassador to Kyiv, Jan Pieklo, told PAP after the meeting with Ukrainian authorities.

“I have been also informed that this is a problem that concerns the restarting of exhumations because Sheremet is the person responsible for this,” Pieklo said, adding that both sides had agreed that the exhumations should be restarted.

In an apparent effort to mend ties, representatives of the Polish and Ukrainian presidents said on Friday that they “reconfirmed their commitment to strengthening the strategic partnership.”

“The parties agreed that the ban on the search and exhumation works in Ukraine should be lifted,” the statement published Friday said.

The denial of entry to Sheremet came after the Polish foreign minister said earlier in November that Poland would bar Ukrainians with “anti-Polish views.”

Poland last year passed a resolution that declared the World War II-era killing of about 100,000 Polish men, women and children by units in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) “genocide.”

Ukraine rejects that label, saying the killings were a result of bilateral hostilities.

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Saudis Bristle at German Official’s Lebanon Remark

Saudi Arabia has summoned its ambassador in Germany home for consultations over comments by German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel about the political crisis in Lebanon.

The Saudi foreign ministry said the government also handed Germany’s representative in Riyadh a protest note over what it said were “shameful” comments Gabriel made after a meeting with his Lebanese counterpart.

After a meeting in Berlin with Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Gabriel told reporters that Europe “could not tolerate the adventurism that has spread there.” It was not clear from a Reuters television recording that the remark was targeted at Saudi Arabia.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned while in Saudi Arabia on Nov. 4.

“Such remarks provoke the surprise and disapproval of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which considers them as aimless and based on false information that would not help bring about stability in the region,” the Saudi ministry said.

The ministry later said on its Twitter account it had summoned the German ambassador in Riyadh and handed him “a protest memorandum over the shameful and unjustified remarks made by the German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.”

Hariri’s abrupt resignation has raised concern over Lebanon’s stability. He met French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Saturday, several hours after he left Saudi Arabia.

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun said on Twitter Hariri had told him in a phone call from Paris he would be in Lebanon on Wednesday for Independence Day celebrations.

The German foreign ministry welcomed Hariri’s departure from Saudi Arabia for Paris and impending return to Lebanon.

“We are very concerned about regional stability and call on sides to reduce tensions,” the statement read. “We aim this message at all actors in the region.”

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Sinn Fein’s Divisive Leader Gerry Adams to Step Down

Gerry Adams, the divisive politician known around the world as the face of the Irish republican movement as it shifted from violence to peace, announced Saturday that he was stepping down as leader of Sinn Fein next year after heading the party for over 30 years.

The 69-year-old veteran politician — who has been president of Northern Ireland’s second-largest party since 1983 — told the party’s annual conference in Dublin he would not run in the next Irish parliamentary elections.

“Leadership means knowing when it is time for change and that time is now,” he said, adding the move was part of an ongoing process of leadership transition within the party.

A divisive figure, some have denounced Adams as a terrorist while others hail him as a peacemaker.

He was a key figure in Ireland’s republican movement, which seeks to take Northern Ireland out of the U.K. and unite it with the Republic of Ireland.

The dominant faction of the movement’s armed wing, the Provisional IRA, killed nearly 1,800 people during a failed 1970-1997 campaign to force Northern Ireland out of the U.K. It renounced violence and surrendered its weapons in 2005.

Although many identify Adams as a member of the IRA since 1966 and a commander for decades, Adams has long insisted he was never a member.

Adams was key in the peace process that saw the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and the formation of the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.

Many believe Sinn Fein’s popularity among voters is hampered by the presence of leaders from Ireland’s era of Troubles.

The party is expected to elect a successor next year. Current deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald was seen as a favorite to succeed Adams.

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Afghan Officials: Islamic State Fighters Finding Sanctuary in Afghanistan

Battered and beaten in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State terror group is surging fighters into Afghanistan, rebuilding its presence and perhaps setting up a new base for attacks on both the West and Russia.

Afghan officials tell Voice of America that Islamic State may now have as many as 3,000 foreign fighters in the country, many of them coming from Pakistan and Uzbekistan. They also fear those numbers are only likely to increase as IS fighters from Iraq and Syria leave those countries as part of an effort to regroup.

“A large number of Daesh fighters are foreign fighters,” said Afghan Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib, using an Arabic acronym for the terror group.

Those numbers have been further bolstered by “a small number of Afghans within,” Mohib said in Washington this week. “The Taliban, some of the factions — some of the irreconcilable elements that are much more extreme — are also joining Daesh.”

The latest Afghan assessment on Islamic State in Afghanistan, also known as IS-Khorasan province, runs counter to much of what U.S. and coalition officials have long been saying. Those officials, while careful not to minimize concerns, have depicted a terror group in retreat.

​Targeting IS in Afghanistan

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis himself characterized the fight against IS in Afghanistan as going “in the right direction” this past July, following an airstrike in Kunar province that killed then-IS-Khorasan leader Abu Sayed.

“Every time you kill a leader of one of these groups, it sets them back,” Mattis said at the time.

The July strike followed an operation in April that led to the death of the previous emir, Abdul Hasib, following what U.S. officials described as a brutal, three-hour firefight in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province.

And just two weeks before that, on April 13, the U.S. targeted an extensive IS tunnel-and-cave complex in Nangarhar with the largest non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal, a GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb.

As a result of the sustained efforts, U.S. officials estimated the terror group’s ranks in Afghanistan had been cut from a peak of about 3,000 fighters to about 600, believing most of them to be disgruntled former Taliban fighters.

But if the new estimates from Afghan officials are to be believed, IS has not only rebuilt its presence in the country in a span of about four months, but they have replaced them with new fighters, not worn down after losing the group’s strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

It would also seem to indicate that the terror group is capable of doing more than just leveraging local insurgencies to keep its brand alive.

IS in Afghanistan’s north

One area of particular concern is Afghanistan’s northern Jowzjan province, a remote area where IS has been relocating fighters, many aligned with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, as well as their families.

“They’re establishing a military presence. They’re implementing social control,” said Caitlin Forrest, with the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW). “They’re collecting taxes.”

According to Forrest and ISW’s Jennifer Cafarella, some IS supporters and fighters are flocking to the region from Central Asia, places like Tajikistan and Chechnya, while others have come from as far away as France and Sudan.

“It’s a sign of what’s to come,” Cafarella said. “This kind of consolidation of foreign fighters in one place is a signature of an external operations node.”

And without much pushback from local or national Afghan forces, IS fighters have also been free to recruit both men and children from towns and villages, seemingly undeterred by the fall of the physical caliphate.

“ISIS is still cashing in on the image of itself as the defender of the weak,” Cafarella said, using an acronym for the militant group. She said the group is still able to sell the idea that it alone is willing to stand up to the West or to defend Sunni Muslims from Shi’ite forces controlled by Iran.

​IS threatening West, Russia

There are also concerns that Afghanistan may not be the only area in which IS has managed to secure new footholds, and based on the type of propaganda, some counterterror analysts believe many of these IS nodes are bent on finding ways to strike the West and Russia as well.

“The long wind-up to the fall of Raqqa and Mosul gave ISIS the window to prepare for its future in the so-called post-caliphate era,” said Katherine Zimmerman with the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project.

“ISIS began planning attacks in Europe from Libya, and all indicators point to ISIS strengthening in Libya,” Zimmerman said, adding, “ISIS will continue to cultivate its branches in the Sahara and Nigeria.”

Some analysts also argue that even the presence of a small number of foreign fighters in certain areas has allowed IS to grow.

But top U.S. military officials argue that will be difficult.

“I think they had aspirational views of going to other places,” Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie told Pentagon reporters Thursday. “But I would tell you, because of the global coalition that we’ve assembled and the ability of those nations in these disparate areas of the world to operate effectively against ISIS when it arises, that plan has not been terribly successful for them.”

As for Afghanistan, officials there worry Islamic State will find a way to persist and strengthen, co-opting other extremists along the way.

“The brutality will continue to increase, which is why we need to address it so rapidly,” said Afghan Ambassador Mohib. “The more time it takes, the more radical some of these groups become and their ideologies start to sync with each other.”

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Russia Again Vetoes Chemical Weapons Resolutions on Syria

Russia has again vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have extended an international probe into chemical weapons use in Syria, one day after it rejected a similar resolution.

Japan had put forward a resolution that would have extended the investigation to identify who is behind chemical weapons attacks in Syria by 30 days to allow time for negotiations on a wider compromise.

On Thursday, the United States sponsored a similar resolution with a yearlong extension that was also vetoed by Russia.

Russian proposal fails

A separate Russian draft resolution Thursday that called for changes to the international investigation failed to get enough votes to pass, with just four countries supporting it. The Russian proposal included changes to the mandate that the United States opposed.

Without passage of any extension, the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) expired Thursday at midnight.

Friday’s veto by Russia was the 11th time Russia vetoed a resolution on Syria.

After Friday’s vote, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council: “Russia has no interest in finding common ground with the rest of this council to save the JIM. Russia will not agree to any mechanism that might shine a spotlight on the use of chemical weapons by its ally, the Syrian regime. It’s as simple and shameful as that.”

Haley offered “sincere apologies” to the “families of the victims of chemical weapons in Syria and the Syrian children, women and men who may be victims of future attacks.”

She added: “Know that the United States, along with the rest of this council, will not give up on seeking justice for your lost loved ones and protection for your families. Know that Russia can obstruct this council, but it cannot obstruct the truth.”

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the inquiry could only be extended if “fundamental flaws in its work” were fixed.

Series of attacks

The Joint Investigative Mechanism began its work more than two years ago after a series of chemical weapons attacks against civilians in Syria that killed or caused agony to hundreds.

The U.N. investigators have blamed the Syrian government for using the banned nerve agent sarin in an April 4 attack and for several times using chlorine as a weapon. It blamed Islamic State militants for using mustard gas.

Syria’s government says terrorists, its word for the opposition, are responsible for all the attacks.

Russia, which is Syria’s most powerful ally, has supported investigations into chemical weapons but criticized the reports as being unfair to the Syrian government.

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Pentagon: Raytheon Gets OK for $10.5B Patriot Sale to Poland

The U.S. State Department approved a possible $10.5 billion sale of Raytheon Co’s Patriot missile defense system to Poland, the Pentagon said on Friday. NATO member Poland has sped up efforts to overhaul its military following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 and in response to Moscow’s renewed military and political assertiveness in the region.

Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz said in March that Poland expected to sign a deal with Raytheon to buy the Patriot missile defense system by the end of the year.

Patriot missile defense interceptors are designed to detect, track and engage unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), cruise missiles and short-range or tactical ballistic missiles.

Support services part of deal

The proposed sale includes 208 Patriot Advanced Capabilty-3 (PAC-3) Missile Segment Enhancement missiles, 16 M903 launching stations, four AN/MPQ-65 radars, four control stations, spares, software and associated equipment.

In addition, Poland is authorized to buy U.S. government and contractor technical, engineering and logistics support services as well as range and test programs for a total estimated potential program cost of up to $10.5 billion.

A Raytheon representative said “it is Raytheon’s experience that the estimated cost notified could be larger than the final negotiated contract amount,” signaling that the final price could be lower as negotiations on a final amount proceed.

Raytheon added that it “will work closely with the U.S. and Polish governments to ensure Poland is able to procure Patriot at a mutually agreeable price.”

NATO allies have same system

The Pentagon said the sale will take place in two phases.

If a deal is finalized, it would allow Poland to conduct air and missile defense operations with NATO allies the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, and Greece, which currently have the Patriot system, a U.S. State Department official said.

The contract still requires approval from the U.S. Congress, because it involves a purchase of advanced military technology for which special permission must be obtained.

Poland, which had said it was planning to spend around $7.6 billion on the whole project, said the negotiations are not over.

“This does not mean that this amount ($10.5 billion) is the final value of the LOA (Letter of Offer and Acceptance),” the Polish Defense Ministry said in a statement, adding it has a “good track record” in negotiating similar offers.

Lawmakers can block sale

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which implements foreign arms sales, said it had delivered notification to Congress on Tuesday.

U.S. lawmakers have 30 days to block the sale, but that rarely happens.

In addition to Raytheon, the prime contractors will be Lockheed Martin Corp and Northrop Grumman.