Senate to Vote This Week on $1.15 Billion Arms Deal With Saudi Arabia

Concerned over casualties in Yemen, Senators force a vote on the planned deal.

September 19, 2016, 2:26 PM
PHOTO: A Saudi soldier on patrol at the Saudi-Yemeni border on April 13, 2015, in Saudi Arabia.
A Saudi soldier on patrol at the Saudi-Yemeni border on April 13, 2015, in Saudi Arabia.
Cihan/Barcroft Media, via Getty Images

— -- The U.S. Senate is expected to vote this week on a resolution to reject a pending arms sale from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia following reports of civilian casualties in Yemen at the hands of the Saudi-led coalition.

Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) said in a telephone briefing this morning that the vote to is expected to come to the Senate floor as early as tomorrow. He raised deep concerns over Saudi Arabia's conduct in Yemen.

"I think this war in Yemen poses an immediate crisis within our relationship," Murphy said. "I think we need to press pause on this arms sale in order to send a strong signal to the Saudis that the way they have conducted this war is unacceptable."

Last month, the U.S. Department of State gave preliminary approval for a massive sale of land force weapons to Saudi Arabia worth $1.15 billion, including scores of tanks, machine guns and ammunition. The announcement of the arms sale to Saudi Arabia came the same day that The Associated Press reported 14 civilians were killed in an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

On August 15, a few days after the arms sale announcement, Doctors Without Borders reported that the Saudi-led coalition had struck one of their hospitals in Northern Yemen, killing at least 11.

In a statement today, Amnesty International said that a U.S.-made bomb was used in that airstrike on August 15.

In a Facebook post, Murphy wrote that "The Saudi war in Yemen has already killed more than 3,800 civilians, including 1,000 children. Saudi Arabia is an important partner, but until their conduct changes in Yemen, the U.S. should push pause on our arms sales to them," adding that he introduced the bipartisan resolution with Rand Paul.

Murphy said in the briefing this morning that they expected a bipartisan group of senators would vote in favor of the resolution to stop the arms sale and hopes this will "send a loud signal both to this administration and the Saudis that the conduct of the war inside Yemen has to change.”

"I think more broadly I think we have to have a discussion about whether this is the right time to be sending record numbers of arms to the Middle East,” the senator added.

In a statement last month, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) said, "Saudi Arabia is an unreliable ally with a poor human rights record. We should not rush to sell them advanced arms and promote an arms race in the Middle East."

A State Department official told ABC News today that the U.S. is deeply concerned by the civilian casualties in Yemen on all sides of the conflict. The official added that all potential defense sales go through a careful assessment process, which examines issues including human rights, regional security and nonproliferation concerns. The department has taken note of the concerns raised by some Congress members, the official added, and been candid with their Saudi counterparts about Congressional concerns regarding the country's air campaign in Yemen.

The official said they have reiterated calls for the Saudi-led coalition to take all feasible measures to protect civilian lives and encouraged peaceful dialogue.

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