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Biden administration pauses arms sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE, sources say

The Biden administration has paused arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as it conducts a wider review of agreements worth billions of dollars made by the Trump administration, sources familiar with the matter told CNN Wednesday.

The move to freeze the sales to the Gulf allies could signal a change in approach by the Biden administration after the Trump administration approved major sales

The State Department confirmed a pause is in effect but did not cite the countries that would be impacted.

“As is typical during the transition of US presidential administrations, the department is temporarily pausing the implementation of some pending US defense transfers and sales under foreign military sales and direct commercial sales to allow incoming leadership an opportunity to review,” said a State Department official. “This is a routine administrative action typical to most any transition, and demonstrates the administration’s commitment to transparency and good governance, as well as ensuring US arms sales meet our strategic objectives of building stronger, interoperable, and more capable security partners.”

The Wall Street Journal was first to report on the pause.

At the end of last year the Trump administration pushed through arms sales to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi tied to the Abraham Accords, which were agreements to normalize relations with Israel.

The Trump administration also declared an emergency declaration to speed up arms sales to Saudi Arabia in 2019 after Congress had put a hold on the sales. The move drew bipartisan condemnation, with lawmakers decrying the precedent it sets, questioning the administration’s claims of an emergency and raising the issue of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Gulf nations that have sales in the pipeline had expected some sort of pause for the administration to review but the practical impact isn’t clear yet, a source familiar with Gulf nations’ thinking said.

Democrats in Congress immediately came out in favor of the move.

“The weapons we sold to Saudi Arabia and UAE have been used to kill schoolchildren, transferred to extremist militias, and fueled a dangerous arms race in the Middle East,” tweeted Sen. Chris Murphy. “This is the right move. The time is now to reset our relationships with Gulf allies.”

On Tuesday a group of Democratic lawmakers sent a clear message to Secretary of State Tony Blinken on his first day: The US-Saudi relationship needs to be scrutinized and overhauled. The lawmakers made it clear that they want to see action and, among other asks, urged him to freeze the delivery of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia, in a letter they wrote on Tuesday.

During his confirmation hearing Blinken did not commit to halting the delivery of all offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia or the UAE, but he did say that the Biden administration would stop supporting the Saudi military campaign in Yemen.

“The Houthis bear significant responsibility for what’s happened in Yemen. But the way the campaign has been conducted has also contributed significantly to that situation,” Blinken said. “Our support should end.”

Article Topic Follows: National Politics

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