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Senators seek to limit arms sales to Saudis

Senators seek to limit arms sales to Saudis

Four senators have introduced a resolution to limit U.S. support for a Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen’s civil war, they announced Thursday.

The resolution would require the president to certify that Saudi Arabia is meeting certain conditions before finalizing future arms sales to the country.

“The United States has no business supplying a military that targets civilians or enables terrorist groups to thrive, but that’s exactly what we’re doing right now in Yemen,” Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyBiden reignites war powers fight with Syria strike Gun violence prevention groups optimistic background check legislation can pass this Congress Democrats reintroduce gun sale background check legislation MORE (D-Conn.) said in a statement. “The Saudis are important partners in the Middle East, but they have continued to disregard our advice when it comes to target selection and civilian protection.”

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Murphy introduced the resolution with Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulWhite House open to reforming war powers amid bipartisan push House approves George Floyd Justice in Policing Act Bipartisan group of senators introduces bill to rein in Biden's war powers MORE (R-Ky.), Dick DurbinDick DurbinDemocrats break COVID-19 impasse with deal on jobless benefits COVID-19 relief debate stalls in Senate amid Democratic drama Democrats close in on deal to provide tax relief for unemployment recipients MORE (D-Ill.) and Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate Dems face unity test; Tanden nomination falls Gillibrand: Cuomo allegations 'completely unacceptable' Schumer: Allegations against Cuomo 'serious, very troubling' MORE (D-Minn.).

Yemen has been embroiled in civil war since March 2015 when Houthi rebels took over the capital of Sanaa and President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi fled to the southern city of Aden. Saudi Arabia, concerned about Iran’s support of the Houthis in a neighboring country, formed a coalition and intervened in support of Hadi.

As of March 24, 4,773 civilians have been killed and another 8,272 injured since the start of the conflict, according to the United Nations.

The United States has supported the Saudi coalition's campaign by selling Saudi Arabia billions of dollars' worth of weapons, providing intelligence and helping with logistics such as air refueling.

But as the civilian death toll mounted and pressure from human rights groups and some lawmakers intensified, former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaWhy is Joe Biden dodging the public and the press? Here's who Biden is now considering for budget chief Pentagon issues report revealing ex-White House doctor 'belittled' subordinates, violated alcohol policies MORE curbed support in the waning days of his presidency. He halted a planned $300 million sale of precision-guided munitions and curtailed some intelligence sharing.

Several reports have said President Trump is considering allowing that arms sale to go through as previously planned. Reports also say that he is considering providing assistance for an offensive on a port held by the Houthis.

Under the senators’ resolution, Trump would have to certify the Saudis are meeting three conditions before sales or transfers of air-to-ground munitions: Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners would have to take all feasible precautions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure; the coalition would need to make demonstrable efforts to facilitate the distribution of humanitarian assistance and commercial goods; and the Saudis would need to take effective measures to target terrorist groups, including al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Murphy and Paul introduced a similar resolution last year, but it was never reached a vote. They also led a failed effort in September to block a $1.15 billion sale of tanks and other equipment to Saudi Arabia.

"Saudi Arabia is an important ally in the region, but it's important that our relationship be on the right terms,” Durbin said in a statement. “Their troubling record of human rights abuses, their war in Yemen and their exportation of extremism deserve close scrutiny if our partnership is to continue.”

Franken said the resolution would help the U.S. hold Saudi Arabia accountable. 

“We need to stand up for our values and ensure that the U.S. no longer turns a blind eye to the indiscriminate killing of children, women, and men in Yemen," he said in a statement.