WASHINGTON – The Biden administration plans to stop selling many offensive weapons in Saudi Arabia, approved by the Trump administration, but will allow the sale of other materials that can be considered defensive, US authorities said on Wednesday.
The plan, which was presented to Congress last week, is part of an administrative review of billions of dollars in sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, announced by the White House shortly after President Biden took office.
The original sales were met with strong opposition from Democrats in Congress, who were outraged by the countries̵
The Biden administration will approve $ 23 billion in arms sales to the United Arab Emirates, according to a State Department spokesman, including F-35 fighter jets and Reaper armed drones. During the review, Biden administration officials signaled that these weapons, sold to the Emirates shortly after the signing of a diplomatic agreement with Israel through the Trump administration, were likely to be approved.
The fate of President Donald J.’s arms sales Trump was less clear about Saudi Arabia. Mr Biden, who said he wanted to restore Washington’s relations with Riyadh, said in February that he would cut off “all US support for offensive operations in the Yemeni war, including related arms sales”, but the White House did not provide additional details.
Since then, US authorities have been discussing which weapons sold under the Trump administration could be used to defend Saudi Arabia, including those from missile and unmanned attacks by Iran-backed Hussein rebels that Saudis are fighting in Yemen. Even when Biden administration officials criticized Saudi Arabia and its heir to the throne, Mohammed bin Salman, they repeatedly promised to help the Saudis defend themselves.
Following the review, the Biden administration plans to stop selling air-to-ground offensive weapons used by fixed-wing aircraft – mostly fighter jets and drones – to Saudi Arabia, US officials said. This includes systems that can turn ordinary bombs into precision-controlled munitions. The suspension is aimed at addressing one of the main concerns in the war in Yemen: the killing of civilians, including many children, by the use of such bombs by the Saudi-led coalition.
Raytheon, the largest supplier of bombs, lobbied the Trump administration to continue sales, despite growing protests from aid groups, members of Congress and some State Department officials.
The suspension does not cover sales of any other weapons to Saudi Arabia, US officials said. Weapons used by helicopters, as well as ground-to-ground ammunition and small arms, will still be allowed. Electronic equipment, including jamming technology, will also be allowed. The Saudi military receives almost all of its weapons from the United States.
“You can’t cut everything while your partner is attacking an enemy on a daily basis when you have made public statements of commitment to their security,” said Kirsten Fontainerose, director of the Atlantic Council, who served as National Security Council director for the Persian region. bay in the White House of Trump.
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The review does not recommend stopping arms sales to the United Arab Emirates. That emerged on Monday after the Justice Department formally notified lawyers of a decision officials say was taken this year as part of a lawsuit against the agreement reached by the New York Center for Foreign Affairs.
The Emirates played a major role in the war in Yemen, but recently withdrew. As part of talks last year to try to persuade the Emirates to normalize relations with Israel, the Trump administration told the Emirati authorities it would speed up approval of sales of F-35 fighter jets and drones.
U.S. officials said Wednesday that Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken received the report this week from other State Department offices and is expected to approve it. The report will then be sent to the National Security Council for final approval.
“I and many other members of the House remain concerned about the proposed sale of $ 23 billion in weapons to the UAE,” said Gregory W. Meeks, a Democrat from New York and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He said there were “many questions about any decision by the Biden administration to move forward with the Trump administration’s proposed transfers” of fighter jets, drones and ammunition to the Emirates.
Israeli officials and some members of Congress have expressed concern that F-35 sales would weaken what they called Israel’s “qualitative military advantage” over other countries in the region, and that Congress is demanding that presidential administrations uphold it as law. Israel is currently the only country in the region with an F-35.
Other US officials are concerned about the sale of the F-35, one of the most advanced hardware parts of the army, to the United Arab Emirates when it develops close ties with China, which is known for technological espionage. U.S. officials are worried about the radar and stealth capabilities of the F-35 and some unmanned technology, among other things.
Ms Fontaine Rose added that some officials had additional concerns that the Emirates could use American-made weapons, including Reaper drones, in the Libyan civil war, where it had intervened. She said the Emirates had given Trump “assurances” on that front.
A State Department official, who requested anonymity to discuss policies that have not been officially announced, noted that it will take years to complete the Emirati arms deal and that during this period the administration will ensure that the country meets its obligations. such as protecting American technology and ensuring that American weapons are not used in a context that violates human rights and conflict laws.
Mr. Meeks repeated this. “Fortunately, none of these transfers will happen any time soon,” he said, “so there will be plenty of time for Congress to review whether these transfers need to move forward and what restrictions and conditions will be imposed.”
Mr Trump’s deal with the Emirates was approved shortly after he agreed to join the Abrahamic agreements, which for the first time normalized diplomatic relations with Israel.
Some Democrats have complained that arms sales appear to have been an inappropriate incentive for the Emirates to agree to agreements that have largely formalized relations that have grown steadily more friendly over many years.
“I still don’t believe it’s in our best interest to fuel a spiraling arms race in the Middle East,” said Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat and leading critic in Congress on arms sales and U.S. Gulf ties. . “I have requested a briefing from the administration on the status of the review of sales in both the UAE and Saudi Arabia.”