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US lawmakers urge for year-long halt in Saudi military aid

Saudi Arabia is the largest customer of US weapons, with more than $100bn in active contracts
A member of the US Airforce looks on near a Patriot missile battery at the Prince Sultan air base in Al-Kharj, in central Saudi Arabia on 20 February 2020.
A member of the US Airforce looks on near a Patriot missile battery at Prince Sultan air base in Al-Kharj, central Saudi Arabia, on 20 February 2020 (AFP)
By Umar A Farooq in Washington

Two top US lawmakers have introduced legislation that would issue a one-year halt to all arms sales and military aid to Saudi Arabia, building on a growing congressional backlash against Riyadh after Opec+ decided on a major oil production cut last week.

The legislation, led by Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna and Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, would prohibit granting a licence to sell Saudi Arabia "any defense articles" including munitions, weapons support and spare parts. The bill, if it becomes law, would also halt any new contracts to provide any defence-related support services to the kingdom.

"One of the consequences should be a temporary halt in arm sales. This one-year pause in sales of all arms, repairs supplies, support really is in defence of our national interest and security interests," Blumenthal said during a news conference on Wednesday.

"The Saudis need to come to their senses. They have committed a humongous blunder, very much against their own economic and security interests, as well as ours."

The US has provided at least $54bn in military aid to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates between 2015 and 2021, according to a recent study by the Government Accountability Office.

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According to the State Department, Saudi Arabia is the largest customer of American Foreign Military Sales (FMS), with more than $100bn in active contracts.

Khanna noted that Saudi Arabia gets more than 70 percent of its arms from the US.

"From my perspective, it's pretty simple. We have done so much for Saudi Arabia," Khanna said during Wednesday's press conference.

"We literally are responsible for their entire air force. And so what galls many of us in Congress is the ingratitude."

Last week, the Saudi Arabia and Russia-led Opec+ announced a production cut of two million barrels a day. The move was met with condemnation and outrage in Washington, where the Biden administration and lawmakers saw the act as Saudi Arabia and Russia colluding against American interests.

Saudi Arabia denies having political motives for the production cut and says the decision was made to help stabilise the market amid a global recession. The price of Brent crude, the global benchmark for oil, dropped again on Wednesday by a dollar to $93 a barrel.

Still, many in Washington view the decision, which was made despite pleas from American officials to not do so, as a sign that Saudi Arabia is choosing Russia over its traditional and longtime partner in the US.

"There's a national security concern, because we are selling highly sensitive, advanced technology to a country that has aligned itself with an adversary, Russia," said Blumenthal.

Biden to look at arms sales

The announcement from Khanna and Blumenthal is one of several legislative proposals being pushed by lawmakers to hit out at the kingdom and by extension the oil cartel.

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley announced his intention to bring back the No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels (Nopec) bill, which would alter antitrust law in the US to revoke the sovereign immunity that has long protected Opec and its national oil companies from lawsuits.

Democratic Congressman Tom Malinowski and several of his colleagues in the House introduced legislation that would go a step further than Khanna and Blumenthal, by withdrawing all US troops from both Saudi Arabia and the UAE while removing all missile systems from the countries.

The Biden administration has begun a review of its relationship with Saudi Arabia, and the president said he would consult with Congress on how to move forward on the relationship.

During a call with reporters on Wednesday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on the issue of arms sales "that nothing is moving imminently".

"There is not an imminent decision that has to be made on the question of arms sales, but that is something that he will be looking at, along with everything else."

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