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US Congress to vote on $23 billion weapons sale to UAE

The US Congress will vote on President Trump’s sought-after arms deal with the UAE. [Getty]

Date of publication: 2 December, 2020

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The President’s rush to get the deal approved before the end of his term has alarmed lawmakers, worried about fall-out from a possible arms race in the Middle East.

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UAE, US, Yemen

The United States Congress is due to vote on incumbent President Donald Trump’s much sought-after arms deal with the United Arab Emirates, which has sparked extensive criticism from rights groups and officials calling for a stop to the mammoth sale.

Despite attempts by 29 human rights groups and a coalition of Senators to stop the deal, Republican Senator Roy Blunt told reporters he believes Congress will vote in favour of the $23bn arms sale.

"It will not successfully be stopped by Congress, I don’t believe. But it’s a debate that we ought to be thinking about," Blunt said on Tuesday.

"My personal view is, it would be a big mistake not to move forward with that arms sale."

Three US senators launched a bid last month to block the sale of top-of-the-line F-35 jets to the UAE, voicing concern over the deal seen as a reward for the nation's normalisation deal with Israel.

A Senate aide familiar with the classified briefing the President held on Tuesday to push the deal forward said there were "major issues" left undecided, including what kind of obligations the UAE will have to fulfill as part of the sale, Politico reported.

The president’s rush to get the deal passed before the end of his term alarmed lawmakers concerned about the consequences of an arms race in the Middle East.

"I think there’s a lot of things that simply they don’t have answers for — things that are critical to be considered," said Sen. Robert Menendez, one of the lawmakers leading the effort to overturn the weapons sale.

Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat close to President-elect Joe Biden, said that the UAE violated terms of previous sales, pointing to reports that weapons sent to the US ally have been discovered in war-ravaged Libya and Yemen.

"The hope is to stop these sales altogether," said Seth Binder, advocacy officer at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), who is leading the 29 rights groups gainst the weapons' deal.

"But if that is not possible in the short term, this sends an important signal to the incoming Biden administration that there is a diverse group of organisations that oppose delivery of these weapons."

This would include a sale of up to 50 F-35 fighter jets, almost 20 Reaper drones, and about 14,000 bombs and munitions. However, the Republican majority Senate is unlikely to roadblock Trump.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formally informed Congress of the sale, hailing the UAE normalization with Israel and casting the sale as part of efforts against mutual adversary Iran.

The UAE had long requested the F-35s, which have stealth capacity and can be deployed for precision bombing, intelligence gathering and air-to-air combat.

Israel had considered its own F-35 fleet to be vital to its own strategic edge over Arab nations but dropped its opposition to the US sale as it saw the advantage of normalised ties.

Congress last year tried to block a major arms package for Saudi Arabia and the UAE but failed to muster the two-thirds majority to override Trump's vetoes.

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