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Bipartisan senators move to block Saudi arms deal over Yemen involvement

Bipartisan senators move to block Saudi arms deal over Yemen involvement
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., led a group of bipartisan senators on Thursday with introducing a joint resolution to stop a Biden administration arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Pool file photo by Greg Nash/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 18 (UPI) -- A group of bipartisan senators introduced a bill Thursday to block the Biden administration from completing an arms sale to Saudi Arabia over its involvement in the Yemen civil war.

The $650 million arms deal with the Kingdom approved by the State Department earlier this month is the first major military sale by the Biden administration, and it has come under criticism from some politicians and activists as they object to the role the U.S. Middle Eastern ally is playing in the Yemen conflict, including its recently instated fuel blockade of the war-torn country that has prevented food and water from getting in.

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The joint resolution unveiled Thursday voices disapproval of the sale by Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., and Mike Lee, R-Utah.

"A message needs to be sent to Saudi Arabia that we don't approve of their war in Yemen," Paul said in a statement. "By participating in this sale, we would not only be rewarding reprehensible behavior, but also exacerbating a humanitarian crisis in Yemen. I order Congress and the Biden administration to consider the possible consequences of this sale that could accelerate an arms race in the Middle East and jeopardize the security of our military technologies."

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Yemen, which borders the Gulf of Aden to its south and Saudi Arabia to its north, has been submerged in conflict since March 2015 when the internationally recognized and Saudi-backed government launched an attack against Houthi rebels.

The United Nations has described the situation as the world's largest humanitarian crisis with some 21 million people in need of humanitarian assistance including more than 11 million children.

In February, President Joe Biden announced the end of U.S. support for offensive military operations in Yemen. The arms deal was approved Nov. 4 by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which has described the weapons involved as defensive in nature.

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"This proposed sale will support U.S. foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that continues to be an important force for political and economic progress in the Middle East," it said in a statement.

The deal includes 280 AIM-120C-7/C-8 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles, which are predominantly used for defensive iron strikes, and 596 LAU-128 missile rail launchers as well as containers, support equipment and other forms of spare parts and technical support.

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Last week, Rep. Ilhan Omar introduced a similar bill in the House to block the arms sale, which she said was "simply unconscionable" as the Kingdom continues "to slaughter innocent people and starve millions in Yemen.

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"We should never be selling human rights abusers weapons, but we certainly should not be doing so in the midst of a humanitarian crisis they are responsible for," she said in a statement.

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