US Senate clears way for $1.15bn sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia

Senators blocked a bipartisan effort to stop the sale of the military equipment, citing concerns about the civilian casualties in ongoing conflict with Yemen

Feliks Garcia
New York
Wednesday 21 September 2016 23:09 BST
Saudi troops pictured atop their tank on the Saudi Arabian-Yemeni border Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty
Saudi troops pictured atop their tank on the Saudi Arabian-Yemeni border Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty

The US Senate voted to allow the $1.15bn sale of military equipment – including tanks and armoured vehicles – to Saudi Arabia amid the country’s ongoing conflict with Yemen.

The 71 to 27 vote killed a bipartisan effort led by Republican Sen Rand Paul and Democratic Sen Chris Murphy that would have stopped the deal, announced by the Pentagon on 9 August. If the sale goes through, Saudi Arabia would receive more than 130 Abrams battle tanks, 20 armoured recovery vehicles, and other military equipment, Reuters reported.

The announcement comes after US-backed Saudi coalition bombed a children’s school, a Doctors Without Borders hospital, and destroyed a bridge humanitarian aid groups to bring supplies into Yemen’s capital, Sana’a.

Mr Murphy rebuked the Riyadh government for their role in human rights violations against Yemen. He also noted Saudi Arabia’s apparent role in fueling radical Islamism through its support for a conservative form of the Muslim faith.

“If you’re serious about stopping the flow of extremist recruiting across this globe, then you have to be serious at the … brand of Islam that is spread by Saudi Arabia all over the world, is part of the problem,” Mr Murphy said before Wednesday’s vote.

Footage shows extent of child malnutrition in Yemen as Britain continues to sell arms to Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has been a source of particular concern for US government officials following the release of previously classified documents, which were believed to disclose the Saudi government's possible role in funding a number of the 9/11 hijackers. Saudi officials denied such allegations, and said the declassified documents were proof of their non-involvement.

Congress is expected to back a bill that would allow the families of 9/11 victims and first responders to file a lawsuit against the Saudi government – a bill that President Barack Obama has promised to veto if it passes.

But Congress may overrule the veto with a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate.

The 18-month-long war between Saudi Arabia and Yemen has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people – many of whom are civilians – and displaced millions.

Nonetheless, the 71 backers of the billion-dollar funding to the country believe that the US should stand with the longtime ally.

“This motion comes at a singularly unfortunate time and would serve to convince Saudi Arabia and all other observers that the United States does not live up to its commitments,” said Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Despite their defeat, supporters of the bill saw the vote as a wake up call for Saudi Arabia.

“The very fact that we are voting on it today sends a very important message to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia that we are watching your actions closely,” said Minnesota Sen Al Franken, “and that the United States is not going to turn a blind eye to the indiscriminate killing of men, women, and children."

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