Lawmakers demand hearing on Saudi arms sale

Lawmakers demand hearing on Saudi arms sale
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan pair of lawmakers is calling on the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to hold a hearing on a planned sale of precision-guided munitions kits to Saudi Arabia.

The kits, which turn so-called dumb bombs into so-called smart bombs, are part of a $110 billion arms deal finalized by President Trump last weekend during his trip to Saudi Arabia — and they're prompting a fight in the Senate.

“The possession of precision-guided weapons should not be conflated with possessing dynamic targeting capabilities; the ability to strike an enemy and avoid civilian casualties requires extensive training, stringent targeting approval processes and clear rules of engagement,” Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Ted YohoTheodore (Ted) Scott YohoOn The Money: Trump announces new China tariffs | Wall Street salaries hit highest level since 2008 | GOP bets the House on the economy GOP: The economy will shield us from blue wave House passes measure to identify, sanction hackers assisting in cyberattacks against US MORE (R-Fla.) wrote to Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) on Thursday.

“At a bare minimum, our committee has a responsibility to ensure that those capabilities are in place before allowing this sale to proceed.”

Lawmakers have 30 days from when they received notification of the sale — which occurred Monday — to block it. 

In addition to sending the letter, Lieu on Thursday introduce a resolution that would put conditions on the sale of air-to-ground munitions to Saudi Arabia. The president would have to certify Saudi Arabia is taking all feasible precautions to protect civilians, facilitating the flow of humanitarian aid and taking steps to target terrorist groups.

In their letter, Lieu and Yoho focused on Saudi Arabia’s conduct in Yemen's civil war, where it is leading a coalition fighting against Houthi rebels.

Critics, including Lieu and Yoho, have slammed Saudi Arabia for the high civilian death toll in the war, saying the kingdom is at a minimum woefully negligent in its targeting.

The pair wrote that administration officials have so far provided inadequate responses to their questions about the Royal Saudi Air Force’s abilities.

In a letter dated April 26, the Pentagon told Lieu that it “shares [his] concern” about civilians in Yemen.

“U.S. civilian and military experts regularly engage with Saudi military personnel to ensure their awareness of the obligations under the law of armed conflict and of civilian casualty mitigation measures,” acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Theresa Whelan wrote.

Another letter from the State Department, dated May 2, told Lieu that “we continue to underscore the importance of civilian harm mitigation measure in our high-level discussions with Saudi Arabia.”

“Our efforts to reduce the risk of civilian casualties are conducted in parallel with our sustained diplomatic engagement to facilitate an end to the conflict in Yemen through a political solution, mediated by the United Nations,” Joseph Macmanus, of the department Bureau of Legislative Affairs, added in the letter.

Lieu and Yoho argue in their letter that the administration has not outlined how the precision-guided munitions will help the goal of a negotiated settlement to the war.

“After two years of conflict, Yemen faces one of the most urgent humanitarian crises in the world, with 7 million people facing severe hunger and 18.8 million in need of aid,” they wrote. “It is incumbent on our Committee to exercise its oversight powers to ask tough questions of the administration and shape U.S. foreign policy.”