WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate voted on two resolutions of disapproval Wednesday, failing to block the Trump administration’s planned sale of more than $23 billion in military equipment to the United Arab Emirates.
The resolutions failed, with the Senate, splitting mostly along party lines, voting 47-49 and 46-50, short of the 51-vote majority needed for passage. President Donald Trump was expected to veto the resolutions had they passed.
The bipartisan group of senators who introduced the resolutions say the administration did not go through the proper congressional review process for a sale of that magnitude, and that there are unanswered questions about the purpose and security of the transfer.
“On this sale in particular, the consultative process was really important, because this sale is as big and as hairy and as complicated as you get,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “We are for the first time selling F-35s and MQ-9 Reaper drones into the heart of the Middle East. Never done before.”
Human rights group Amnesty International has criticized the U.S. sale of drones and other weapons to the UAE, saying they will be used in the conflict in Yemen.
“The United States must resolutely refrain from supplying weapons that could be used in the conflict and not transfer weaponry to the UAE, or risk complicity in likely war crimes in Yemen,” Amnesty said in a November statement.
According to the State Department, the sales to the UAE total $23.37 billion, including more than $10 billion in sales for 50 F-35 Lighting aircraft, almost $3 billion in sales for unmanned aerial systems and a $10 billion package of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions.
The UAE and Israel signed the Abraham Peace Accords earlier this year, opening the way for a normalization of relations between the two countries.
In a statement announcing the sales last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the accord “offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to positively transform the region’s strategic landscape. Our adversaries, especially those in Iran, know this and will stop at nothing to disrupt this shared success.
Pompeo said the proposed sale “will make the UAE even more capable and interoperable with U.S. partners in a manner fully consistent with America’s longstanding commitment to ensuring Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge.”
But U.S. lawmakers say that while it is important to support the security of the UAE, the speed of the sale leaves too many unanswered questions.
“We are clear-eyed about the threat Iran continues to pose to U.S. national security interests. But we have yet to understand exactly what military threat the F-35 or armed drones will be addressing vis-a-vis Iran,” Sen. Bob Menendez, the leading Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Wednesday.
The resolutions were introduced by Menendez and Murphy along with Republican Sen. Rand Paul. A similar resolution had been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Under U.S. law, the window for blocking the sales ends on December 10.