US Senate votes to block Saudi arms sales

Published June 21, 2019
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell departs the chamber after appealing for lawmakers to vote against more than a dozen resolutions aimed at blocking the Trump administration's sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, at the Capitol in Washington on Thursday. — AP
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell departs the chamber after appealing for lawmakers to vote against more than a dozen resolutions aimed at blocking the Trump administration's sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, at the Capitol in Washington on Thursday. — AP

WASHINGTON: The Republican-led US Senate voted on Thursday to block $8.1 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other allies, as legislators delivered a symbolic rebuke to President Donald Trump.

Seven Republicans joined Democrats in supporting each of three resolutions that would prevent the controversial sales announced earlier this year by Trump.

The measures would block 22 separate sales of aircraft support maintenance, precision-guided munitions and other weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan at a moment of heightened tensions in the Middle East.

The votes were only assured this week when Republican leadership agreed to hold the sensitive roll calls on the arms sales that critics say will aggravate the devastating war in Yemen.

Trump’s administration took the extraordinary step of bypassing Congress to approve the sale last month, as his administration declared Iran to be a “fundamental threat” to the stability of the Middle East.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said the administration was responding to an emergency caused by Iran, which backs the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Senators, including some Republicans, said there were no legitimate grounds to circumvent Congress, which has the right to disapprove arms sales.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump loyalist on several other fronts, offered a full-throated rebuke of the arm sales — and of the Saudi leadership.

Graham said he hoped his vote would “send a signal to Saudi Arabia that if you act the way you’re acting, there is no space for a strategic relationship”.

The senator was referring to last year’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey at the hands of Saudi agents, an incident that triggered a full-blown crisis in Riyadh’s relations with the West.

“There is no amount of oil that you can produce that will get me and others to give you a pass on chopping somebody up in a consulate,” Graham said, adding that there is also “no amount of threat coming from Iran that’s going to require me to give a pass to this brutal barbaric behaviour”.

Published in Dawn, June 21st, 2019

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