US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office at the White House, March 20 2018. Picture: REUTERS
US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office at the White House, March 20 2018. Picture: REUTERS

Washington —  Senators across the political spectrum moved on Wednesday to block President Donald Trump’s plan to sell $8.1bn in arms to Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies as US legislators’ frustration with the kingdom soars.

The Trump administration said in May it will use emergency powers to defy  congress and provide munitions, aircraft maintenance and military components to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The threat infuriated legislators who say the weapons could be used to kill civilians in Yemen, where the Saudis and Emiratis are waging war and millions face starvation.

Republican senator Lindsey Graham, who is usually in step with Trump, voiced hope for “strong bipartisan support” in preventing the sales.

“While I understand that Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behaviour of Mohammed bin Salman cannot be ignored. Now is not the time to do business as usual with Saudi Arabia,” Graham said, referring to the kingdom’s ambitious crown prince.

Secretary of state Mike Pompeo said the administration will not follow the usual process of submitting the sales to congress due to an emergency caused by Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, which backs Houthi rebels who control much of Yemen.

Veto resolutions

The senators said they will table resolutions of disapproval — as they could for sales that are formally submitted — for all 22 arms deals.

The chances of success are uncertain as Trump could veto any disapproval resolutions, with the Senate and House of Representatives needing two-thirds votes to override him.

Trump vetoed a resolution in April to end US military support for Saudi-led forces in Yemen.

Anger with Saudi Arabia has grown in congress since the October killing of  Saudi US resident and Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi. Turkish and US officials say he was strangled and his body cut up at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Democrat senator Chris Murphy, one of the most outspoken critics of Saudi Arabia, said that only congress could change the dynamics between the two countries.

“Selling more bombs to the Saudis simply means that the famine and cholera outbreak in Yemen will get worse, Iran will get stronger and al-Qaeda and Isis will continue to flourish amid the chaos of the civil war,” Murphy said.

“Saudi Arabia treats us like the junior partner in this relationship, chopping up US residents and torturing others, all the while demanding we remain silent and sell them more weapons,” he said.

AFP