The Trump administration is poised to move quickly to approve major weapons packages for Saudi Arabia and Bahrain that President Obama blocked during his final months in office over human rights concerns in both nations, U.S. officials and congressional sources say.
While the White House declined to discuss its plans, one U.S. official directly involved in the transfers told The Washington Times that a roughly $300 million precision-guided missile technology package for Riyadh and a multibillion-dollar F-16 deal for Bahrain are now in the pipeline ready for clearance from the new administration.
From The Washington Times
The deals, if approved, would send a significant signal about the priorities of the new administration, where the security challenge posed by forces such as Islamist jihadi groups and Iran is taking a much greater precedence in setting foreign policy.
“These are significant sales for key allies in the Gulf who are facing the threat from Iran and who can contribute to the fight against the Islamic State,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Whereas the Obama administration held back on these, they’re now in the new administration’s court for a decision — and I would anticipate the decision will be to move forward.”
The Pentagon also declined to comment. But congressional sources said they anticipate the Trump administration will easily overcome resistance on Capitol Hill, where Democrats and some Republicans have called for restrictions on sales to Riyadh amid an outcry from human rights groups over large-scale civilian casualties of the Saudi-led military campaign in neighboring Yemen.
Amnesty International has charged that the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition waging war against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen “appear[s] to have deliberately targeted civilians and civilian objects such as hospitals, schools, markets and mosques, which may amount to war crimes.”
More than 60 members of the House signed a bipartisan letter calling on former President Obama to delay a $1.15 billion sale of battle tanks to Saudi Arabia last Summer. In September Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky co-sponsored a bill with Democratic Sens. Christopher Murphy of Connecticut and Al Franken of Minnesota to try to block the sale.
While the bill was tabled by a 71-27 procedural vote, the senators made headlines arguing that Riyadh’s indiscriminate bombing in Yemen was feeding extremist narratives and strengthening al Qaeda and Islamic State in the war-torn nation.
The Obama administration ultimately approved the Saudi tank deal — a move many saw as part of a pattern to ease security fears of the Saudis and other Arab Gulf states in the wake of the nuclear deal Mr. Obama strongly backed with Iran.
But during his final days in office, Mr. Obama suddenly shifted on weapons sales to the Saudis, specifically with regard to the now-pending package of precision-guided weapons technology.
An Obama administration official told Reuters in December that “systemic” and “endemic” problems in Saudi Arabia’s targeting in Yemen had led to the decision to spike the sale of the so-called smart bomb technology from Raytheon.
The U.S. official who spoke with The Times this week questioned that logic and suggested the Trump White House is now poised to embrace the deal, which would include enough of the Waltham, Massachusetts-based company’s “Paveway” guidance systems to “convert thousands of dumb bombs into smart bombs.”
The U.S. has sold precision-guided bombs and technology to the Saudis as far back as 2008, but the kingdom has reportedly been badly in need of a resupply since its campaign in Yemen kicked off two years ago.
“While we’re very concerned about Saudi actions in Yemen in terms of the civilian casualties, we believe a more accurate partner is a more effective partner and results in fewer casualties,” the official said. “If they’re going to drop stuff, it should be precision-guided rather than dumb.”
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