Congress resists sale of weapons to Riyadh

15 Juin, 2019, 01:33 | Auteur: Anatole Charbonneau
  • Mohammed Hamoud  Getty Images

'Now is not the time to do business as usual with Saudi Arabia...'

Citing an Iran-related emergency, the Trump administration told congressional committees on May 24 that it would go ahead with 22 military deals worth $8.1 billion to Saudi Arabia, UAE and Jordan, circumventing a long-standing precedent for lawmakers to review major weapons sales.

Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper was called up to defend the decision Wednesday, but faced a grilling from both Republicans and Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Concern over U.S. -Saudi policy has been building for some time, in part due to the heavy civilian casualties from the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

One resolution aims to block all 22 deals, while the other three specifically address the sale and production of precision-guided munitions to and within Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. He and Engel both questioned how it was an emergency if the transfer of most of these weapons would take months, if not years in some cases - and why the administration didn't give Congress a formal 30-day notice instead to allow it to vote on the sales. Next week, the Senate next week plans to consider 22 joint resolutions-one for each sale-designed to prevent the transaction.

If the resolutions pass the Senate, they will be sent to the Democratic-controlled House for a vote, where they will most likely pass. Trump issued a veto, and the resolution's congressional supporters did not have the votes to override the veto. "It's phony, it's made up, and it's an abuse of the law - once again, attempting to cut Congress out of the whole picture", said the committee's chair, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.

"Building on previous reporting by Bellingcat, identifying marks on USA bombs used in the Dahyan bus bombing which killed at least 40 children and 11 adults, revealed they were partially produced in Pennsylvania, the fifth largest exporter of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE", the report reads.

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But Cooper said the administration was determined to support Mideast allies opposed to Iran. "This action is not meant to be an escalatory military step; instead, it is a loud and clear message to Iran that we stand by our regional partners", Cooper will tell lawmakers in his opening testimony Wednesday.

"Holding a partner, any partner, accountable doesn't preclude us from working with the partner", Cooper said.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and USA resident who had become a vocal critic of the prince, disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. It was alleged MbS had ordered the killing of the journalist, although the Kingdom strongly dismissed the claims. Since then, Saudi officials have offered a handful of narratives, all of which emphasize that the crown prince, who intelligence communities say nearly certainly ordered the murder, had nothing to do with it.

Rep. Tom Malinowski, New Jersey Democrat and former State Department official, said the White House has presented "no evidence that the Gulf countries face any substantially new threat from Iran that would justify declaring an emergency, or that these weapons, which the Saudis need to keep bombing Yemen, would even be useful if such a threat arose". The top Republican on the panel, Michael McCaul of Texas, said "the recent use of this emergency authority in my judgment was unfortunate" and warned, "we certainly hope this is a one-time exception".

A tenuous peace agreement for a critical section of Yemen has quieted fighting there and may allow humanitarian aid to reach population, the United Nations said Wednesday.

The Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran, have fought for more than four years to oust Yemen's internationally recognized government, which is supported militarily by the Saudi-led coalition.

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