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US lawmakers 'concerned' and plan to review $23bn UAE arms sale

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman says Congress will have 'ample time' to review the Biden administration's decision to continue with the weapons deal
Chairman Gregory Meeks said it was fortunate that the transfers would not occur 'any time soon', leaving time for congressional review (AFP/File photo)
Chairman Gregory Meeks said it was fortunate that the transfers would not occur 'any time soon', leaving time for congressional review (AFP/File photo)

The Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said US lawmakers "remain concerned" over the Biden administration's plans to continue with a $23bn arms sale to the United Arab Emirates, adding that the House planned to review the move. 

Representative Gregory Meeks, in a statement on Wednesday, said "many other House Members" shared his unease over the deal.  

House Democrats, as well as those in the Senate, have repeatedly criticised the UAE for its role in the Saudi-led coalition's bombings of market places, funerals, weddings and hospitals in Yemen. 

Several bills in both chambers of Congress have attempted to bar US arms sales to the UAE as well as Saudi Arabia, but failed to get past the Republican majority during the Trump administration. 

'There will be ample time for Congress to review whether these transfers should go forward'

- Gregory Meeks, House Foriegn Affairs Chairman

The $23.37bn package - approved during the final hours of former President Donald Trump's term - includes 50 F-35 jet fighters and up to 18 MQ-9B armed drones, as well as a package of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions. Israel is the only other country in the Middle East to be approved for F-35 purchases. 

"Fortunately, none of these transfers would occur any time soon, so there will be ample time for Congress to review whether these transfers should go forward and what restrictions and conditions would be imposed," Meeks said, referring to the State Department's 2025 - or later - estimated delivery date on the UAE sale. 

A vote to block the sale

The Biden administration paused the arms deal in January so the package could be reviewed, but this week announced its plans to go forward with the deal. 

The State Department, in a statement on Tuesday, said it planned to "reinforce with the UAE and all recipients of US defense articles and services that US-origin defense equipment must be adequately secured and used in a manner that respects human rights and fully complies with the laws of armed conflict". 

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But anti-war circles have been adamantly opposed to any US arms transfers to the Emirates, given its involvement in the wars in Yemen and Libya. 

In December, nearly every Democrat in the Senate voted to block the $23bn sale, but their efforts fell short as Republicans, who supported the deal, held the majority. 

On Wednesday, Annie Shiel, senior adviser for US policy and advocacy at the Center for Civilians in Conflict, warned Biden's move to go forward with the massive arms deal "betrays the will" of the majority of Democrats who voted against it just months ago. 

"Most importantly, it's a slap in the face to victims of conflict in Yemen & beyond," she said in a Twitter post

Amnesty International has also spoken out against the arms sale, releasing a statement on Wednesday that insisted the approval of the arms deal was "not the actions of a president committed to upholding human rights in the United States and abroad". 

"The startling fact that the Biden administration continues the previous administration's unflinching support of providing weapons that risk adding to the devastating toll of Yemeni civilians unlawfully killed and injured by United States-made weapons should shake to the core every person who supports human rights," Philippe Nassif, advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International USA, warned.