Fight Brewing on Saudi Arms Sales

Yemenis wrap in shrouds the bodies of members of the same family during their funeral on October 8, 2016, a day after they were killed in a reported airstrike by Saudi-led coalition airplanes that hit their house in Bajil. (Photo credit: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)As Donald Trump began his first international trip as president, the State Department notified Congress of its intent to sell more than $500 million in precision-guided munition components and related services to Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration had put the deal on hold in December, in part due to independent reports that Saudi forces have repeatedly struck civilian areas in Yemen, including locations the United States asked be placed off-limits. Legal analysis provided to the American Bar Association and shared with senators May 19 indicated that such a sale should not occur “until Saudi Arabia had ceased violating international law.”

Many of the same members of Congress who opposed a controversial tank deal with Riyadh in September 2016 are now leading efforts to block the sale. (See ACT, October 2016.) At least one vote is expected this month on a resolution against the sale as Congress considers exercising its ability to prohibit the administration from concluding an official agreement during the first 30 days after notification. In co-sponsoring a resolution of disapproval on May 25 with Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said, “Given Saudi Arabia’s past support of terror, poor human rights record, and questionable tactics in its war in Yemen, Congress must carefully consider and thoroughly debate if selling them billions of dollars of arms is in our best national security interest at this time.” The deal promises to be the first test of Trump’s ability to deliver on a broader $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia announced May 20. Writing in the Huffington Post on May 20, Murphy called the arms sale “a terrible idea.”—JEFF ABRAMSON