Washington, DC – The US Senate’s leadership cleared the way for a series of votes yesterday expressing disapproval of $8bn in US weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE approved last month by President Donald Trump.
The Senate vote sets up a symbolic rejection of Trump’s claim that “emergency” circumstances require the US to provide Riyadh more precision-guided bombs because of “Iranian threats”.
Senator Bob Menendez, a top Democrat leader on foreign affairs, and Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican and political ally of Trump, are leading the challenge to the Saudi arms sales. At least four Republicans have said they will join 47 Democrats to support the arms sale disapproval.
“These weapons won’t counter Iranian threats. This is all about using them in Yemen,” Menendez said in remarks to the Senate.
Trump and his advisors used the emergency declaration to bypass a requirement in the Arms Export Control Act that Congress approve such arms sales amid growing opposition by politicians to providing US precision-guided weapons to Saudi Arabia.
The planned sale also provides for co-production and manufacture of high-tech bomb components in Saudi Arabia for the first time.
The significance of the vote is that it shows continuing bipartisan political opposition within Congress to business as usual with Saudi Arabia, even as the Trump administration exercises favouritism towards the kingdom. Trump is likely to veto the measure and it is unclear if there would be enough Republican defections in Congress to overcome that.
Senate Republicans, however, are preparing legislation to impose new parameters on the US-Saudi strategic relationship, including potential financial sanctions on persons involved in the killing of journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.
US legislators have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the Saudi-UAE aerial bombing campaign in Yemen – using American weapons – that has caused more than 4 800 civilian deaths and injuries in 2018, according to a UN estimate.
The war is blamed for famine and a severe cholera outbreak that has killed thousands more. “What’s happening in Yemen is a humanitarian disaster that has been exacerbated by the very weapons we have been giving the Saudis,” Menendez said.
Outrage in Congress peaked after the former Washington Post columnist Khashoggi was killed in October 2018 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by a death squad sent from Riyadh. The CIA has concluded Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) played a role in the assassination of Khashoggi, who had been critical of Saudi human rights abuses.
In a long-anticipated report released on Wednesday, UN extrajudicial executions investigator Agnes Callamard said Khashoggi’s death “constituted an extrajudicial killing for which the State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible” and said Prince Mohammed should be investigated. – Al Jazeera