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US lawmaker unveils resolution to block 'unconscionable' $650m Saudi arms sale

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar says it is 'unconscionable to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia while they continue to slaughter innocent people and starve millions in Yemen'
After the announcement of the sale Omar reintroduced the Arms Sale Oversight Act, an effort to exercise more control from the House over proposed arms sales.
After the announcement of the sale, Omar reintroduced legislation to exercise more control from the House over proposed arms sales (AFP)
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Washington

US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar introduced a joint resolution on Friday aimed at blocking a $650m weapons sale to Saudi Arabia, the first major arms sale to the kingdom during President Joe Biden's administration.

The progressive lawmaker said she introduced the legislation in opposition to the Saudi-led coalition's offensive operations in the war in Yemen, as well as Riyadh's crackdown on dissidents at home and abroad. 

"It is simply unconscionable to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia while they continue to slaughter innocent people and starve millions in Yemen, kill and torture dissidents, and support modern-day slavery," Omar said in a statement announcing the bill.

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"We should never be selling human rights abusers weapons, but we certainly should not be doing so in the midst of a humanitarian crisis they are responsible for. Congress has the authority to stop these sales, and we must exercise that power."

The resolution would require approval by a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate. It was welcomed by a number of rights groups in Washington, including Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).

"The United States should not sell any weapons to Saudi Arabia or other abusive governments, period. Congress should block this and similar deals in the future," Raed Jarrar, DAWN’s advocacy director, said in a statement.

The $650m sale was announced by the Biden administration last week, when it sent a formal notification to Congress.

The sale comprises of advanced munitions to the Saudi Air Force, and a State Department spokesperson previously told Middle East Eye that it is to "replenish Saudi Arabia's existing inventory of air-to-air missiles" and was a sale meant for defensive operations.

'Stop arming human rights abusers'

Saudi Arabia and its regional allies intervened in Yemen's war in March 2015, launching an aerial bombing campaign against the Houthi forces who seized large parts of the country including the capital, Sanaa.

The country is frequently described by the United Nations as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 230,000 people killed, an estimated four million displaced, and around 80 percent of Yemenis dependent on aid for survival.

In February, Biden announced the end of US support for Saudi-led offensive operations in the Yemen war, but has come under criticism from Democrats and human rights advocates for falling short of pushing for an end to the conflict in the war-torn country.

Earlier this week, a group of prominent Democratic lawmakers slammed the potential sale to Riyadh, saying that the US "continues to provide logistical support and spare parts" that aid the Saudi Air Force's operations in Yemen.

"The only way to truly protect people in the region is to bring the war in Yemen to an end. The conflict has now claimed thousands of lives and remains a devastating humanitarian disaster," said the members of Congress, which included Tom Malinowski, Jim McGovern and Adam Schiff.

After the announcement of the sale, Omar, alongside Congressman Ted Lieu and Congresswoman Sara Jacobs, also reintroduced the Arms Sale Oversight Act, a legislative effort to give the House more authority over proposed arms sales.

"The State Department oversees about $170 billion in arms sales every year, including to some of the most egregious human rights abusers in the world," Omar said in a news release.

"This does nothing to further the cause of human rights, but does line the pockets of some of [the] largest war profiteers and weapons contractors. If we are serious about putting human rights at the center of our foreign policy, we need to stop arming human rights abusers, full stop."