- The Washington Times
Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has formally started the process for the Senate to block the Trump administration from closing on $8 billion in weapons deals with Gulf Arab powers — deals that would include the sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia.

Speaking on the floor Tuesday morning, Sen. Robert Menendez requested that a resolution to reject the precision-guided munitions sale be considered by the full Senate.

“I don’t think transfer of those sensitive technologies and the creation of its components is something that is in the national interest both economically or in terms of our security,” the New Jersey Democrat said.

The resolution is just 1 of 22 being filed by a bipartisan group of senators, including Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, and Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat and the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, that aims to block a wider slate of proposed sales worth $8 billion.

In addition to Saudi Arabia, the lawmakers have also taken issue with proposed sales to the United Arab Emirates.

The moves on Capitol Hill come in response to the Trump administration’s decision last month to skip a congressional review process for the proposed sales by invoking a national security waiver in the Arms Export Control Act. The waiver, which cited an “emergency” as the justification for pushing the sales through without review, ignited fury among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who argued such deals require congressional approval.

“The suggesting that this is an emergency, I think, was shown to be totally hollow,” Mr. Menendez said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

Lawmakers have halted arms deals in the past, and moved to block a similar sale to Saudi Arabia in 2017 after President Trump’s visit to Riyadh.

Precision guided munitions have been criticized by human rights groups for causing mass civilian casualties in Yemen, where a Saudi-led military coalition is at war with Iran-backed rebels.

While less accurate weapons might be considered more likely to result in civilian casualties, some claim the Saudis have used precision guided bombs specifically to target civilians in Yemen — an allegation Riyadh vehemently denies.

Over the last decade, Saudi Arabia has purchased billions of dollars of U.S.-made weapons that have been found in the rubble of Yemen’s war, which many lawmakers have said is cause to put arms sales to the Kingdom on hold.

“There is a conflict in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians with U.S.-made weapons and a Congress that is tired of being complicit,” Rep. Ted Lieu, California Democrat, told The Washington Times.

“We will not tolerate the Trump administration’s blatant abuse of power,” he said.

An aide for Mr. Lieu, who has co-sponsored House side resolutions similar to those brought forward in the Senate on Tuesday, told The Times that the congressman plans to introduce an amendment to the pending Defense appropriations bill that would block the sales. The developments come against a backdrop of widening tension between the U.S. and Iran, following attacks on two oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz last week that Washington claims were carried out by Iranian troops. On Monday night, the Pentagon announced the deployment of an additional 1,000 U.S. troops to the Persian Gulf.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month cited threats from Iran to American interests as reason for the proposed sales to Gulf Arab powers, several of whom — including Saudi Arabia — view Iran as an arch rival. Mr. Menendez rejected that sentiment Tuesday, saying the weapons involved in the proposed sales will not counter threats from Iran.

“This is about this institution standing up for its Congressional prerogatives, to ensure that regardless of who is the president in the White House, that arms sales are subject to review of the Congress,” Mr. Menendez said. “The date we give that up, the date we go down a dangerous path. So this is the beginning of a process.”

• Lauren Toms can be reached at lmeier@washingtontimes.com.

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