US senator ends block on arms sales to GCC
Senator Corker notified Secretary of State Rex Tillerson of his decision in a February 8 letter, which was obtained by Defense News on Thursday.
"Unfortunately, there still isn't a clear path to resolving the GCC rift," Corker wrote. "Given that weapons sales are part of our security cooperation with these states, I am lifting my blanket hold on sales of lethal military equipment to the GCC and will resume informally clearing those sales […]," he added.
Tillerson welcomed Corker's decision and said the US will continue to work with Gulf officials to resolve the diplomatic crisis, according to AP.
"Each of the countries involved in the dispute is a strong counterterrorism partner of the United States," he said.
The US defence industry also welcomed the news. The Gulf is a major buyer of US arms – Congress has approved $120 billion of sales since 2009 to Saudi Arabia alone, according to a recent Congressional Research Service study.
Under US law, Congress has the authority to block specific weapons sales by passing resolutions. Typically, the federal government discusses sales with congressional committees ahead of time to secure their approval.
Russia reportedly stepped up its interest in the Gulf market following Corker's June 2017 announcement.
As for the timing of Corker's February 8 announcement, analysts say the reversal is "unsurprising".
"It is likely that over time, the hold increasingly became a liability, another issue for the Gulf states to point as a sign of shaky US support, particularly when juxtaposed with the Trump administration's push to sell arms," Becca Wise, an analyst at RAND Corporation, told Defense News.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt in June cut all diplomatic and economic relations with Qatar, which they accused of ties to Islamist extremists and being too close to Shiite Iran.
Doha has categorically denied the accusations and accused the bloc of seeking to take over its foreign policy.
Sales to Bahrain, Qatar and others were allowed to proceed even amidst the ban, and included upgrades and servicing for previously purchased equipment.