Reuters International

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 19, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday he would oppose an effort in Congress to pass a measure that seeks to block the sale of $1.15 billion in Abrams tanks and other military equipment to Saudi Arabia.

The Republican lawmaker told a weekly news conference that Saudi Arabia had been a good ally of the United States for many years and it was important to maintain as strong a relationship as possible with Riyadh.

A bipartisan group of senators, led by Republican Rand Paul and Democrat Chris Murphy, has introduced a joint resolution seeking to block the arms deal, expressing concern about Saudi Arabia's role in the conflict in Yemen and poor human rights record as well as worries that the agreement may fuel an ongoing arms race in the region.

The Senate is due to vote on the measure on Wednesday.

But it faces stiff opposition beside McConnell's in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the sale should go forward, adding it was part of a regional strategy.

"They're going to buy these arms from someone, and I would prefer that they buy them from us," Corker told reporters outside the Senate chamber.

Separately, a group of lawmakers introduced companion legislation on Tuesday to block the sale in the House of Representatives.

The House measure was led by Representative Ted Lieu, a Democrat who in August led a group of 64 lawmakers who signed a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to postpone the sale, raising concern about the Saudi-led coalition's killing of civilians in Yemen.

Lieu's measure is also bi-partisan. It was also led by Republican Representative Mick Mulvaney. But there was no indication of when it might come up for a vote in the House.

(Reporting by David Alexander; Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Eric Walsh and Sandra Maler)

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