(Adds Pentagon statement, background)
By Mike Stone
WASHINGTON, Sept 8 (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department has approved arms sales packages worth more than $3.8 billion to Bahrain including F-16 jets, upgrades, missiles and patrol boats, the Pentagon said on Friday.
The approvals coincide with the State Department’s notification to Congress, which had held up a similar arms deal last year over human rights concerns.
The proposed sales include 19 F-16V jets made by Lockheed Martin Corp which could have a value of up to $2.7 billion, the Pentagon said.
Other potential sales approved Friday include two 35 meter (114 feet) patrol boats with machine guns, 221 anti-tank missiles made by Raytheon Co and $1.8 billion worth of upgrades to Bahrain’s existing fleet of F-16 jets, the Pentagon said in separate statements.
In May, U.S. President Donald Trump said Washington’s relations with Bahrain would improve, after meeting with the king of the Gulf Arab state during a visit to Saudi Arabia.
However in June, U.S. Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he would block arms sales to members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, including Bahrain, until they made progress in resolving a simmering dispute with Qatar.
But a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity earlier on Friday, said the proposed sales were cleared by the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees through the regular “tiered review process” which precedes this formal notification.
The U.S. official also said the United States has regular discussions with Bahrain on human rights and political reform and continues to urge its government to pursue efforts that will enhance regional security. (Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Diane Craft)