Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman will block all US arms sales to Saudi Arabia and five other countries

Senator Bob Corker will bar all weapons sales in the region amidst a major dispute over funding for terrorism

Emily Shugerman
New York
Tuesday 27 June 2017 22:20 BST
Saudi army officers walk past F-15 fighter jets, GBU bombs and missiles at King Salman airbase in Riyadh
Saudi army officers walk past F-15 fighter jets, GBU bombs and missiles at King Salman airbase in Riyadh ( FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker has announced he will block any future arms sales to six Gulf Region countries while they are engaged in a major dispute over funding for terrorism.

In a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Mr Corker announced he would not clear any more weapons sales in the region until the US has a “better understanding of the path to resolve the current dispute and reunify the [Gulf Cooperation Council].”

Five Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members voted to cut ties with fellow Council member Qatar earlier this month. The states, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, claim Qatar has been funding Sunni Islamic terrorism and working on behalf of Iran.

The decision put the small, economically dependent country into a tailspin that the US has been trying to resolve, with little success.

The State Department is working with the GCC countries to meet their demand and bring Qatar back into the fold. In a recent statement, Mr Tillerson said he believes “our allies and partners are stronger when they are working together towards one goal, which we all agree is stopping terrorism”.

Donald Trump, however, accused the country of of funding terrorism at a "very high level".

Mr Corker, meanwhile, claims the GCC failed to take advantage of recent summit with the US, and “chose to devolve into conflict”.

“All countries in the region need to do more to combat terrorism, but recent disputes among the GCC countries only serve to hurt efforts to fight ISIS and counter Iran,” he wrote.

Mr Corker – as well as the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the ranking members of each committee – must approve of any significant arms sales to foreign governments before Congress is notified. Congress must then be notified before the sale can proceed.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Senator Benjamin Cardin, said he agreed with the chairman's decision.

“I share Senator Corker’s concern that the current G.C.C. dispute distracts from our shared, most pressing security challenges — defeating ISIS and pushing back on Iran,” Mr Cardin said in a statement.

The decision could jeopardize a $110bn arms deal that Mr Trump announced with Saudi Arabia in May. While Congress has already been notified about many aspects of the deal, others have yet to enter the informal review process.

The decision will not affect a $500m weapons sale to the country that Congress failed to block earlier this month. Humanitarian groups warned the sale could exacerbate the civil war in Yemen, but Senate Republicans – including Mr Corker – shot down a bill to block it.

"There is no classified intelligence that shows [Saudi Arabia] have ever intentionally bombed civilians — as a matter of fact, intelligence down there shows that they didn't," Mr Corker said at the time.

The Senator described blocking arms sales to Saudi Arabia as "cutting your nose off to spite your face."

Mr Corker’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

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