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US senators push to block drone sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE

Bill comes in response to recent decision by Trump administration to bypass decades-old arms treaty
Under the legislation, drones carrying more than 1,100 pounds of weapons over 186 miles would be subject to pact's strict rules.
Under the legislation, drones able to carry more than 1,100 pounds of weapons in excess of 186 miles would be subject to pact's strict rules (AFP/File photo)
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Washington

A bipartisan group of US senators introduced legislation on Thursday that would block the sale of drones to countries that are not close allies of Washington, mentioning Saudi Arabia in particular.

The legislation comes in response to a recent decision by the Trump administration to bypass a decades-old Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and sell large armed drones to foreign militaries.

Countries that can now purchase the advanced drones include Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have used US-made weapons in the deadly war in Yemen.

Both Republican and Democratic senators criticised Trump's decision, saying it could cause a dangerous increase in the spread of missile technology and encourage other countries to undermine arms agreements. 

"If we allow Trump to start selling drones, we set a dangerous precedent that allows and encourages other countries to sell missile technology and advanced drones to our adversaries," Senator Chris Murphy, who introduced the bill, said in a statement.

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"In addition, the president's action will only further enable the Saudis to continue killing more innocent civilians in Yemen by supplying them with advanced US-made drones." 

Senator Mike Lee, a staunch conservative who is backing the legislation, argued for the end of US participation in Yemen's war and expressed concern over the sale of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

"I am concerned that making it easier for the United States to export weapon-capable UAS systems to Saudi Arabia and the UAE further entrenches the US role in the war in Yemen and perpetuates an incentive structure for keeping rather than drawing down US presence in the Middle East," Lee said in a statement.

Democratic senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Chris Coons of Delaware joined Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky as the other co-sponsors of the bill.

In order to stop the sales of the drones to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, the bill would make the limits of the MTCR legally binding by amending the Arms Export Control Act, which gives the president the power to authorise weapons sales.

Under the legislation, drones that can carry more than 1,100 pounds of weapons more than about 186 miles would once again be subject to the pact's strict rules.

US lawmakers have previously failed in trying to rein in the Trump administration's plans for arms sales, particularly to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, for use in the war in Yemen. While the measures initially passed with bipartisan support in both chambers, they failed to get enough Republican support to override Trump's vetoes.