US senators plan to block $1.15bn Saudi arms deal

US senators plan to block $1.15bn Saudi arms deal
Republican senator Rand Paul has blasted Saudi Arabia as an 'unreliable ally' as concerns mount over the kingdom's bombing raids in Yemen.
3 min read
15 August, 2016
Rand Paul has voiced his concerns about the key US ally in a statement [Getty]
US senators are considering blocking a major arms sale to Saudi Arabia days after it was approved by the State Department, citing concerns about the kingdom's human rights record. 

News of a possible vote against the deal emerged during an interview with Republican senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who voiced his concerns about the key US ally in a statement provided to Foreign Policy magazine.

"I will work with a bipartisan coalition to explore forcing a vote on blocking this sale," Paul's statement read. 

"Saudi Arabia is an unreliable ally with a poor human rights record. We should not rush to sell them advanced arms and promote an arms race in the Middle East".

The senator's words come during the 30-day period in which US legislators are able to block the deal, however such interventions are rare.

Concerns about US support for Saudi Arabia have increased as the Middle East's richest nation continues its intervention in Yemen, despite the deteriorating situation in the country.

The Saudi-led coalition backing President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi continued its aerial campaign on Tuesday as peace talks between the government and Houthi rebels collapsed.

On Tuesday, the coalition struck a food facility, killing more than a dozen people and on Saturday carried out an airstrike on a Sanaa school, leaving at least 10 children and dozens more injured.
Abrams tanks
The recently-approved deal includes the sale
of 30 Abrams battle tanks to Saudi Arabia [Getty]

The United Nations has raised concerns about the coalition's air raids, saying that the "reported escalation in fighting exacerbates the already dire humanitarian and human rights situation and the suffering of the Yemeni people".

Prior to Senator Paul's recent statement, concerns were also raised in the US in June, after a UN report said that 510 children had been killed and 667 others wounded by the Saudi-led coalition in 2015. In response, the US House of Representatives considered banning the sale cluster munitions – which are closely linked to the air campaign in Yemen – to Saudi Arabia.

At the time, Paul's colleague on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Chris Murphy was quoted by Defense News as having said, "If you talk to Yemeni-Americans, they will tell you in Yemen this isn't a Saudi bombing campaign, it's a US bombing campaign... Every single civilian death inside Yemen is attributable to the United States. We accept that as a consequence of our participation".

While there may be cross-party support for blocking the recently agreed sale, which includes the transfer of 30 Abrams battle tanks and 20 armoured recovery vehicles, it is expected that hawkish senators may respond by citing Saudi Arabia's opposition to Iran's allies in the Middle East.

On Tuesday, the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency, the agency responsible for foreign arms sales, took a similar line by saying in a statement that the proposed $1.15 billion sale will "increase the Royal Saudi Land Force's [RSLF] interoperability with US forces and conveys US commitment to Saudi Arabia's security and armed forces modernisation".