The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress on Sept. 8 of nearly $4 billion in proposed foreign military sales to Bahrain, including 19 F-16V fighter aircraft and upgrades to 20 other F-16s already in the Bahraini air force. The notification marks the official intention of the Trump administration to proceed with a third major arms sale, each to different countries, that the Obama administration had held up due to human rights concerns. In May, the administration provided notification of a sale of precision-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia and in August proposed selling Super Tucano light aircraft to Nigeria. Once notified, Congress has 30 days to review potential sales before the administration can proceed, but deals are often delayed during a preceding informal stage when leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee can vet arms deals.
On June 26, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said the committee would hold up any further arms sales to Gulf Cooperation Council countries until there is “a path to resolve” its internal disputes, notably one with Qatar. Corker indicated during a Sept. 12 nomination hearing that this would apply to future sales because the Bahrain deal had been cleared previously during the informal review period. Further, Corker said arms sales to Bahrain and human rights should be delinked, and the nominee to become U.S. ambassador to Bahrain, career diplomat Justin Hicks Siberell, stated that “enhancing our security cooperation with Bahrain does not diminish the enduring emphasis we place on human rights issues.” Siberell added, “We continue to be concerned with government actions against nonviolent political and human rights actors.”—JEFF ABRAMSON