Biden admin reviewing Trump arms sales to UAE, Saudi

Biden administration reviewing Trump arms sales to UAE, Saudi Arabia

The halt on arms sales and transfers that had not been completed was temporary, calling the review a routine action typical of presidential transitions

US soldiers standing next to an F-35A Lightning II stationed at the Emirati Al-Dhafra base, about 32 kilometres south of Abu Dhabi. Credit: AFP File Photo

The Biden administration is pausing some weapons sales to Gulf Arab states while it reviews major US arms deals approved by the Trump administration, including tens of billions of dollars of advanced fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates and precision munitions to Saudi Arabia.

A State Department official speaking on background said Wednesday the halt on arms sales and transfers that had not been completed was temporary, calling the review a routine action typical of presidential transitions.

But it drew attention because the arms deals with the Gulf Arab nations, approved in the last months of the Trump administration, were the subject of intense political debate even before the review. Some Democrats expressed hope Wednesday that the sales would be cancelled.

Democrats in Congress have strongly opposed the sales out of disgust over the Saudi and Emirati role in Yemen’s gruelling civil war, which has inflicted vast civilian suffering, but they failed to attract enough Republican support to block the deals in Congress in December. Many Democrats began pressuring President Joe Biden even before his inauguration to halt the sales.

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The deals in question include the $23 billion sale to the Emirates of 50 F-35 fighters and 18 Reaper drones, which President Donald Trump approved in the fall as an inducement for the Emirates to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel.

In late December, the State Department approved the sale of $478 million in precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, over the strong objections of Democrats, who said the bombs were sure to wind up killing innocent civilians in Yemen.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, briefing journalists at the State Department on his first full day on the job, said the review was customary. And in a statement posted on Twitter by his embassy, the Emirati ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, also stressed the routine nature of the freeze.

Still, some congressional Democrats said Wednesday that the arms deals should — or even most likely would — be canceled.

“This marks the end of US ambivalence in the face of unconscionable human suffering in Yemen,” Rep. Ro Khanna of California, a member of the Armed Services Committee and an outspoken critic of arms sales to the Gulf states, said on Twitter.