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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

U.S. Lawmakers Concerned About Saudi Munition Sale

Reuters reported on April 10, 2017 that a number of U.S. lawmakers are raising concerns about the proposed sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia.

The lawmakers -- a group of 30 mostly Democrats -- wrote a letter to the U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, as well as the Secretary of Defense, James Mattis.

According to Reuters, the letter said, "As you know, the previous administration made the decision in December 2016 to halt a planned sale of precision-guided munitions (PGM) to Saudi Arabia due to concerns over widespread civilian casualties and significant deficiencies in RSAF's (the Saudi Air Force's) targeting capabilities."

It continued, "According to recent reports, however, the State Department has now reversed course and removed the suspension on these PGM sales."

While a formal notification from the State Department has not been sent to the Congress regarding the potential sale of PGMs to Saudi Arabia, several news reports following the inauguration of President Donald Trump stated that the Trump Administration had removed the hold placed on the PGM sales. Citing Congressional aides, Reuters reported that "the Trump administration was on the verge of sending a formal notification to Congress about the sale," which would suggest lawmakers are being informally notified of the sale.

Former President Barack Obama, who left office in January, reportedly placed the block on the sales late last year, in an effort to pressure Riyadh over allegations that Saudi airstrikes in Yemen have killed civilians.

A formal notification of a sale's approval does not mean it has been completed. Once the Congress has been formally notified, it has 30 days to review the sale and possibly block it. Previous efforts to block arms sales have not succeeded; last year, the Congress tried to stop a sale of tanks to Saudi Arabia but was not able to muster enough votes.

Like the concerns about the PGM sale, critics of the tank sale cited the humanitarian situation in Yemen in making the case that the tanks should not be sold to Saudi Arabia.

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