A bipartisan group of 22 House lawmakers is pushing President Trump to approve sales of armed drones to Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, saying that the sales would help in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The Obama administration rejected the drone sales. But in a letter sent Monday, the lawmakers argued that the countries would use the MQ-9 Remotely Piloted Aircraft to mitigate “threats related to the Islamic State, an unpredictable Iran and the unchecked movement of people, weapons, and supplies to Syria and Yemen.”
“Despite the complex set of security threats both Jordan and the UAE face, the Obama Administration failed to support formal requests for the MQ-9 Reaper and also a separate request from the UAE for the maritime configured, unweaponized MQ-9 SeaGuardian,” the letter states.
The lawmakers also argue that the sale could boost the U.S. economy by $1 billion and “preserve thousands of U.S. manufacturing jobs," since the MQ-9 drones are built in the United States by San Diego-based General Atomics.
Should the White House not approve the sale, Jordan and the UAE will turn to China “to fulfill the immediate requirements” as they have in the past, the lawmakers argue.
Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.) — whose district contains a General Atomics factory — led the letter. He had previously argued for the sale in a September 2015 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.
The export of drones is often restricted by the Missile Technology Control Regime, an agreement between 34 countries that is meant to prevent the spread of unmanned delivery of nuclear weapons. The Obama administration opposed the Reaper sale to Jordan and the UAE under the agreement, arguing that the technology should not be shared beyond close allies.
The Trump administration, however, has indicated it will take a more relaxed stance on foreign military sales. Last month the State Department told Congress it will eliminate the human rights conditions that the Obama administration placed on a $3 billion sale of a batch of F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain.
The White House is also expected to approve a $600 million sale of high-tech aircraft to Nigeria, despite allegations that the country’s air force has bombed civilian targets.