US senator blocks arms sales to Hungary over blocking Sweden's NATO bid
PHOTO CAPTION: A live-fire demonstration is performed during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2019 (TS19), July 8, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ashley Maldonado via U.S. Defense Visual Information Distribution Service)
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top Republican on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Wednesday he was blocking a $735 million arms sale to Hungary because its government has refused to approve Sweden's bid to join NATO.
"Given promises that were made to me and others last year that this vote would be done, and the fact that it is now June and still not done, I decided that the sale of new U.S. military equipment to Hungary will be on hold," Senator Jim Risch said in a statement.
"Hungary should take the actions necessary to allow Sweden into the alliance, and soon," he said.
Under U.S. law, major arms deals are reviewed by the top Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.
They regularly ask questions or raise concerns over human rights or diplomatic issues that can delay or stop weapons sales.
Risch's decision to block the deal was first reported in the Washington Post, which said the sale included 24 HIMARS rocket launcher batteries and more than 100 rockets and pods along with associated parts and support.
The Hungarian Defense Ministry released a statement via the state news agency MTI saying it did not intend to buy HIMARS systems.
"During the previous government term, the government commissioner in charge of procurement requested information about HIMARS missile systems in a letter with a March 2022 deadline. There was no response from the U.S. side, therefore, the ministry considered the matter closed," Hungary said.
Sweden applied last year to join NATO as a result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Objections from Turkey andHungary have delayed the bid and Sweden now hopes to join by a NATO summit in Lithuania next month.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg met at the White House on Tuesday with U.S. President Joe Biden.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, additional reporting by Gergely Szakacs in Budapest; editing by Jonathan Oatis)