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US senators introduce legislation to block $650m weapons sale to Saudi Arabia

Group of US senators oppose Biden administration's first major arms sale to Saudi Arabia over Riyadh's involvement in the Yemen conflict
US Patriot missiles in Saudi Arabia
A member of the US air force near a Patriot missile battery at the Prince Sultan air base in Al-Kharj, in central Saudi Arabia, on 20 February 2020 (AFP)

Three US senators introduced legislation on Thursday seeking to block the Biden administration's first major arms sale to Saudi Arabia due to Riyadh's involvement in the war in Yemen.

Republican senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee joined independent Senator Bernie Sanders to introduce a resolution condemning a recent $650m weapons sale, which would see the delivery of 280 AIM-120C air-to-air missiles to the kingdom.

The resolution seeks to block the sale of the missiles, along with 596 LAU-128 Missile Rail Launchers, containers, support equipment, spare and repair parts and logistical support services.

"A message needs to be sent to Saudi Arabia that we don’t approve of their war with Yemen," Paul said in a statement.

"By participating in this sale, we would not only be rewarding reprehensible behavior, but also exacerbating a humanitarian crisis in Yemen. I urge Congress and the Biden administration to consider the possible consequences of this sale that could accelerate an arms race in the Middle East and jeopardize the security of our military technologies," he added. 

Yemen has been plagued by violence since 2014, when the Houthis captured the capital, Sanaa, and overran parts of the country.

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Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Arab states intervened in March 2015 to support the internationally recognised government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, who was forced to flee to Riyadh.

Since then, the protracted conflict has seen more than 230,000 people killed, an estimated four million displaced, and 80 percent of the country's 29 million people left dependent on aid for survival.

"As the Saudi government continues to wage its devastating war in Yemen and repress its own people, we should not be rewarding them with more arms sales," Sanders said in a statement.

Last week, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar introduced a joint resolution in the House citing the same reasoning. 

"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.

Shortly after entering office earlier this year, President Joe Biden initially pledged to end US support for Saudi-led offensive operations in Yemen.

When the State Department approved the sale earlier this month, a spokesman said the sale was "fully consistent with the administration's pledge to lead with diplomacy to end the conflict in Yemen".

The air-to-air missiles ensure "Saudi Arabia has the means to defend itself from Iranian-backed Houthi air attacks," he said.