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US Senate backs massive arms sales to UAE after Trump veto threat

Senators and activists had lobbied against $23bn sale to the UAE, citing it as a party to the conflicts in Yemen and Libya
The administration told Congress in November it had approved the sale to the UAE of products from General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Technologies (AFP)

The US Senate has backed extensive high-tech weapons deals with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as efforts to block them fell short on Wednesday. Republican senators sided with US President Donald Trump, opposing resolutions of disapproval that sought to block the sale of drones and advanced F-35 fighter jets to the emirate.

The Senate voted 50-46 and 49-47 - mostly along party lines - to stop consideration of the resolutions, ending them at least until President-elect Joe Biden, who is expected to review the sales, takes office on 20 January.

Early on Wednesday, the Trump administration had issued a formal notice of its intention to veto the measures if they passed the Senate and House of Representatives.

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The White House said the sales support US foreign policy and national security objectives by "enabling the UAE to deter increasing Iranian aggressive behaviour and threats" in the wake of its recent normalisation deal with Israel.

Backers of the sale also described the UAE as an important US partner in the Middle East.

However, some US lawmakers have criticized the UAE for its involvement in the wars in Libya and Yemen, the latter considered one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters.

Last month, a coalition of almost 30 advocacy groups penned a letter urging Congress to disapprove the sale.

"The planned arms sales to the UAE, a party to the conflicts in Yemen and Libya, would fuel continued civilian harm and further exacerbate these humanitarian crises," the groups said.

"Delivery of the sales would undermine US national security interests by fuelling instability, violent conflict, and radicalisation in the Middle East and North Africa and would also send a signal of impunity for the UAE’s recent conduct, which includes likely violations of international law."

The letter was signed by prominent groups, including the Center for International Policy, Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) and Win Without War.

Critics say transactions rushed through

The two weapons packages are a major component of a planned $23bn sale of high-tech armaments to the UAE. 

Opponents said the transactions were being rushed through, without sufficient assurances that the equipment would not fall into the wrong hands or fuel instability in the Middle East, Reuters reported.

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The administration told Congress in November it had approved the massive sale to the UAE of products from General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Technologies.

Some lawmakers are also worried that the weapons transfers might violate US guarantees that Israel will retain a military advantage in the region. 

But Israel, which enjoys strong support in Congress, has said it does not object to the sales.

Accusing Trump of cutting short or sidestepping Congress' typical review of major weapons sales, lawmakers have tried repeatedly during Trump's four-year presidency to block his plans for arms sales.

None of these efforts have succeeded, either dying in the Republican-led Senate or, if passed, failing to win the two-thirds majorities in the Senate and House to override Trump's vetoes.

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