Corker lifts hold on arms sales to Gulf countries despite continuing Qatar crisis

Corker lifts hold on arms sales to Gulf countries despite continuing Qatar crisis
© Greg Nash

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSenators return to Washington intent on action against Saudis Paul Ryan shares video of Mitt Romney dropping by in Washington Senate GOP readies for leadership reshuffle MORE (R-Tenn.) has lifted his hold on weapons sales to the Gulf states, even as their dispute with Qatar drags on into its ninth month.

“Unfortunately, there still isn’t a clear path to resolving the [Gulf Cooperation Council] rift,” Corker wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonWhite House ousts Sessions Trump downplays potential turnover: 'Everybody wants to work in this White House' Trump says Cabinet changes likely after midterms MORE published Wednesday by Defense News.

“Given that weapons sales are part of our security cooperation with these states, I am lifting my blanket hold on sales of lethal military equipment to the GCC and will resume informally clearing those sales if the administration can make the case that … the purchasing state is taking effective steps to combat support for terrorism.”

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Arms sales are subject to preliminary approval by the Foreign Relations Committee before going to the full Congress for a 30-day review period.

In June, a group of countries led by Saudi Arabia imposed a de facto blockade on Qatar, citing its relations with Iran and what they say is support for extremist groups.

In response, Corker said he’d block all new arms sales to the Gulf States until there was “a better understanding of the path to resolve the current dispute and reunify the GCC.”

The Trump administration has made efforts to help end the dispute, but it continues unabated.

Last month, at the inaugural U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue with Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisFirst woman passes special forces assessment, could become first female Green Beret Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Mattis defends border deployment during visit to troops | Bolton aide exits WH after clash with first lady | House blocks Yemen war resolution | Report warns of erosion in US military superiority Senators return to Washington intent on action against Saudis MORE and their Qatari counterparts, Tillerson said the United States is “as concerned” as it was at the start of the dispute and urged “all parties [to] minimize rhetoric, exercise restraint to avoid further escalation.”

This week, Tillerson is on a trip in the Middle East. Ahead of the trip, U.S. officials said Tillerson would talk about next steps to resolve the Gulf crisis when he is in Kuwait, which has taken the lead on mediating.

In a letter responding to Corker, Tillerson said the administration is continuing to work to resolve the crisis.

“We have seen some operational improvements over the past year, but regrettably, the parties themselves have yet to lay out a clear way forward,” Tillerson wrote in the letter, also obtained and published by Defense News.

He added that each country involved in the dispute is a “strong” counterterrorism partner and so he appreciates Corker’s decision.

“We will ensure that proposed sales and transfers to GCC countries advance the security needs of our partners,” Tillerson wrote, “promote interoperability with U.S. and allies forces, and enhance U.S. national security interests in the region.”