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Senate clears way for $1.15 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia

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The U.S. Senate cleared the way for a $1.15 billion sale of tanks and other military equipment to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, defending a frequent partner in the Middle East recently subject to harsh criticism in Congress.

The Senate voted 71 to 27 to kill legislation that would have stopped the sale.

The overwhelming vote stopped an effort led by Republican Senator Rand Paul and Democratic Senator Chris Murphy to block the deal over concerns including Saudi Arabia’s role in the 18-month-long war in Yemen and worries that it might fuel an ongoing regional arms race.

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The Pentagon announced on Aug. 9 that the State Department had approved the potential sale of more than 130 Abrams battle tanks, 20 armored recovery vehicles and other equipment to Saudi Arabia.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency said General Dynamics Corp would be the principal contractor for the sale.

Paul, Murphy and other opponents of the arms deal were sharply critical of the Riyadh government during debate before the vote, citing Yemen, the kingdom’s human rights record and its international support for a conservative form of Islam.

“If you’re serious about stopping the flow of extremist recruiting across this globe, then you have to be serious that the … brand of Islam that is spread by Saudi Arabia all over the world, is part of the problem,” Murphy said.

The criticism came days before lawmakers are expected to back another measure seen as anti-Saudi, a bill that would allow lawsuits against the country’s government by relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

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President Barack Obama has promised to veto that bill, but congressional leaders say there is a strong chance that lawmakers will override the veto and let the measure become law. Overriding a presidential veto requires a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate.

In Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is battling Iranian-allied Houthis, the Houthis have accused the United States of arming and supporting the Saudis, who intervened on the side of Yemen’s exiled government.

The war has killed over 10,000 people and displaced more than 3 million.

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But backers of the deal said Saudi Arabia is an important U.S. ally in a war-torn region, deserving of U.S. support.

“This motion comes at a singularly unfortunate time and would serve to convince Saudi Arabia and all other observers that the United States does not live up to its commitments,” Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

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(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Grant McCool and Sandra Maler)


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Sondland says Ukrainians knew there was a quid pro quo for military aid — because he told them

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E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland's opening statement contains a blizzard of damning allegations about President Donald Trump and his immediate officials' conduct surrounding the withholding of foreign aid to Ukraine.

In particular, Sondland's statement directly contradicts a major talking point used by Republicans to defend the president: That there couldn't have been a quid pro quo to force the Ukrainians to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden, because the Ukrainians did not know the delay in military aid was linked to opening investigations.

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Trump’s new anti-impeachment crusader mangles basic facts about Sondland in her first big TV interview

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Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general who recently joined the White House as a communications staffer, repeatedly misrepresented EU ambassador Gordon Sondland's role in the State Department.

The Florida Republican appeared Wednesday on CBS This Morning ahead of Sondland's highly anticipated public testimony in the impeachment inquiry, and she was asked how well President Donald Trump knew the campaign donor-turned-ambassador.

"He was ambassador to the Ukraine, he is ambassador to the Ukraine, and the president knows him," said Bondi, who recently joined the White House to help manage communications strategy against impeachment.

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‘We followed the president’s orders’: Sondland leaves no wiggle room for Trump’s direct involvement in Ukraine scandal

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European Union ambassador Gordon Sondland will leave no wiggle room for President Donald Trump to deny his direct involvement in the Ukraine scandal in his bombshell opening statement.

As reported by the Daily Beast, Sondland will testify that he followed President Donald Trump's orders to work with personal attorney Rudy Giuliani on dealing with Ukraine, despite the fact that he was personally reluctant to do so.

"Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker and I worked with Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the President of the United States," the statement says. "We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt. We all understood that if we refused to work with Mr. Giuliani, we would lose an important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine. So we followed the President’s orders."

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