Trump administration pushes forward on $500 million weapons deal with Saudi Arabia
By MISSY RYAN, KAREN DEYOUNG | The Washington Post | Published: December 24, 2020
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has formally notified Congress that it intends to sell nearly $500 million in precision bombs to Saudi Arabia, a transaction that is likely to fuel criticism from lawmakers who object to arming the Persian Gulf nation over its record of human rights abuses and stifling dissent and role in the war in Yemen.
An individual familiar with the sale, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment to the news media, said the deal includes 7,500 "Paveway IV" precision-guided bombs, worth $478 million, which under the terms of the agreement would be produced in the kingdom.
The proposed transaction, which has been in the works since early last year, also includes an internal security communications systems worth $97 million. Bloomberg first reported that the State Department sent the notification on Tuesday.
William Hartung, director of the arms and security program at the Center for International Policy, said the sale should not go ahead.
"Saudi access to tens of thousands of precision-guided munitions thus far has not diminished the civilian toll in Yemen, so Pentagon claims that more accurate bombs will reduce civilian casualties don't hold up to scrutiny," he said in a statement.
In August, the State Department said its inspector general found that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not break the law when he used an unusual emergency declaration in 2019 to bypass bipartisan congressional opposition to a larger arms sale to Saudi Arabia.
The gulf monarchy, with which the Trump administration has forged close ties, has been the subject of bipartisan criticism over its war in neighboring Yemen, where Saudi jets, using U.S. precision munitions, have repeatedly bombed civilian targets as the kingdom has sought to weaken Iranian-linked rebels there.
Scrutiny of the longtime U.S. ally intensified after Saudi agents carried out a brutal 2018 operation against Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributing columnist who was killed and dismembered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. U.S. intelligence officials concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing.
Under arms sale rules, lawmakers have 30 days from the day of notification, or until Jan. 21, to pass a resolution of disapproval.
Congressional aides said it was doubtful a vote on congressional disapproval would take place between now and when a new Congress takes over Jan. 3 because it wouldn't be veto proof. At the same time, President Donald Trump could issue an emergency declaration, as he did last year, overriding any congressional objection, at any point.
A representative for President-elect Joe Biden declined to comment on the sale. Earlier this year, Biden said he would reassess the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia over its record on human rights and, especially, the death of Khashoggi, promising to ensure that the United States would "not check its values at the door to sell arms or buy oil."
More recently, Biden tapped retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, who has served as a member of Raytheon's board, as his nominee to be defense secretary.
Addressing the new Raytheon transaction, Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said Biden "should immediately reverse course if this deal does go through."
A Democratic congressional aide said the Trump administration was "trying to ram through even more arms sales to human rights abusers in its last month in office over clear congressional objections."
A spokesman for Raytheon did not immediately provide a comment.
In addition to the Saudi sale, the Trump administration sent additional arms sale notifications to Congress this week, including small arms and small arms components for Canada, Philippines and Mexico.
Officials are expected to send notifications for aircraft missiles and other items for Egypt.