26 June 2019

Republican, Democratic senators seek to block Trump Saudi arms sales

KONFRONTASI-Republican and Democratic U.S. senators said on Wednesday they would introduce legislation that would block President Donald Trump’s plan for $8 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates without congressional review.

Backers said the introduction of the 22 “resolutions of disapproval,” one for each of the 22 arms deals cleared by the Trump administration, was intended to “protect and reaffirm Congress’ role of approving arms sales to foreign governments.”

The announcement followed furious rejection in Congress late last month of the Trump administration’s declaration that a growing threat from Iran was an emergency that forced it to sidestep lawmakers’ review of major arms deals and approve precision-guided munitions, aircraft engines, mortars and other equipment for Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan.

“We are taking this step today to show that we will not stand idly by and allow the President or the Secretary of State to further erode Congressional review and oversight of arm sales,” said Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Trump’s fellow Republicans control a majority in the Senate but some have been pushing back lately against his proposals. On Wednesday, hope grew for a deal to avoid U.S. tariffs on Mexican goods after many Republicans opposed the idea because of its potential impact on cross-border trade and U.S. businesses.

Menendez, and Republican Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally who also is a critic of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, led the push for the resolutions.

Members of Congress had been blocking sales of offensive military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the UAE for months, angry about the huge civilian toll from their air campaign in Yemen, as well as rights abuses such as the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

“While I understand that Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behavior of (Saudi Crown Prince) Mohammed bin Salman cannot be ignored,” Graham said in a statement. “Now is not the time to do business as usual with Saudi Arabia.”

Graham said he expected “strong bipartisan support” for the resolutions.

Many lawmakers say the powerful crown prince is ultimately responsible for Khashoggi’s murder and other rights abuses. The government in Riyadh denies that.

Two other Republican senators - Rand Paul and Todd Young - and three Democrats - Chris Murphy, Patrick Leahy and Jack Reed - also joined the announcement.

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