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Trump to push for overseas arms sales

Reuters WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The Trump administration is nearing completion of a new “Buy American” plan that calls for U.S. military attaches and diplomats to help drum up billions of dollars more in business overseas for the U.S. weapons industry, going beyond the limited assistance they currently provide, officials said.

President Donald Trump is expected to announce a “whole of government” approach that will also ease export rules on U.S. military exports and give greater weight to the economic benefits for American manufacturers in a decision-making process that has long focused heavily on human rights considerations, according to people familiar with the plan.

The initiative, which will encompass everything from fighter jets and drones to warships and artillery, is expected to be launched as early as February, senior officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A key policy change would call for embassy staffers around the world to act essentially as a sales force for defense contractors, actively advocating on their behalf. It was unclear, however, what specific guidelines would be established.

But under this more proactive approach, embassy staffers would engage more aggressively with foreign counterparts to push for U.S. arms sales and brief visiting senior U.S. officials so they can help advance pending deals, according to a person familiar with the matter. One senior administration official described the proposal as a “180-degree shift” in the current arms-length approach to foreign weapons sales.

Trump is seeking to fulfill a 2016 election campaign promise to create jobs in the United States by selling more goods and services abroad to bring down the U.S. trade deficit from a six-year high of $50 billion.

The administration is also under pressure from U.S. defense contractors facing growing competition from foreign rivals such as China and Russia. But any loosening of the restrictions on weapons sales would be in defiance of human rights and arms control advocates who said there was too great a risk of fueling violence in regions such as the Middle East and South Asia or arms being diverted to be used in terrorist attacks.

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