US lawmakers plotting punitive action against Saudi Arabia

US lawmakers plotting to bypass Trump in taking stronger action against Saudi Arabia
3 min read
02 August, 2019
US lawmakers have vowed to bypass US President Donald Trump to punish Saudi Arabia over its human rights abuses.
Republican Senator Lindsey Grahaml has said the Saudi Crown Prince is responsible for Khashoggi's murder[Getty]

The United States Congress failed to enact anti-Saudi legislation before its August break began on Thursday but lawmakers say they have not given up on their goal to punish Saudi Arabia for ongoing human rights abuses.

"I'll just keep trying to find ways forward," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told Reuters on Thursday. 

A few days earlier, the Senate failed to prevent the controversial sale of $8.1 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia, after President Donald Trump vetoed congressional resolutions blocking the deal.

Despite bipartisan votes this month that served as a rebuke to the president - and an expression of lawmakers' outrage with the kingdom over Riyadh's role in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year - the effort to override Trump's third use of his veto powers since taking office fell well short.

Trump's desired sale of Raytheon Co precision-guided munitions (PGMs) to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates could go ahead. 

But lawmakers are looking to stop the sale by pushing several more pieces of legislation, Reuters reported, including 18 resolutions to block weapons sales.

Those critical of Trump's close relationship with Saudi Arabia are looking to include provisions to suspend military sales to the conservative kingdom in the National Defense Authorisation Act (NDAA) - an annual bill that sets policy for the Pentagon. 

The NDAA hasn't failed to pass in sixty years. 

Lawmakers to block the arms sales as they would aggravate the devastating war in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is leading a US-backed coalition in a battle against the Iranian-supported Houthi rebels.

The UN has described the situation in Yemen as the "world's worst humanitarian crisis".

Trump's administration took the extraordinary step of bypassing Congress to approve $8 billion in military sales in May, as his administration declared Iran to be a "fundamental threat" to the stability of the Middle East.

Senate Democrat Ben Cardin said that by not blocking the sales, Republicans "abdicated their constitutionally mandated responsibilities" to conduct oversight.

"We have both a legal and moral obligation to make certain that US weapons are not used to repress human rights or perpetrate violence against innocent civilians," Cardin said.

Cardin, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pointed to a Saudi artillery attack earlier Monday in northern Yemen that medics said killed 13 civilians, including two children.

Saudi Arabia's standing on Capitol Hill sharply declined after the murder of US-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed at the kingdom's consulate in Turkey.

But Trump and his supporters in Congress see Saudi Arabia as an important regional counterweight to Iran and consider weapons sales as a key job generator. 

Earlier this year, Trump vetoed a resolution that would have ended US military support for the Saudi-UAE air campaign in Yemen.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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