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Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure

Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators on Thursday introduced a bill that would ban the sale of large armed drones to all nations other than close U.S. allies.

The legislation was crafted in response to the Trump administration’s move last month to circumvent a 33-year-old arms treaty and sell more large armed drones to foreign militaries. 

President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to hold virtual bilateral meeting with Mexican president More than 300 charged in connection to Capitol riot Trump Jr.: There are 'plenty' of GOP incumbents who should be challenged MORE signed a measure to allow U.S. defense contractors to sidestep one part of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a 1987 agreement between 35 countries, to allow U.S. firms to sell the drones to foreign governments previously banned from purchasing such products.  

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Countries that may now purchase the advanced drones include Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have used U.S.-produced weapons in Yemen’s deadly civil war.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle criticized Trump’s decision, worried that the shift could cause a dangerous increase in ballistic missiles and give rise to other countries choosing to undermine agreements. 

“If we allow Trump to start selling drones, we set a dangerous precedent that allows and encourages other countries to sell missile technology and advanced drones to our adversaries,” Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Minimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster New rule shakes up Senate Armed Services subcommittees MORE (D-Conn.), a sponsor of the bill, said in a statement.

“In addition, the president’s action will only further enable the Saudis to continue killing more innocent civilians in Yemen by supplying them with advanced US-made drones.” 

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Key vote for Haaland's confirmation | Update on oil and gas leasing | SEC update on climate-related risk disclosure requirements Haaland on drilling lease moratorium: 'It's not going to be a permanent thing' Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March MORE (R-Utah), another sponsor, argued for the end of U.S. participation in Yemen’s war.  

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“I am concerned that making it easier for the United States to export weapon-capable UAS systems to Saudi Arabia and the UAE further entrenches the U.S. role in the war in Yemen and perpetuates an incentive structure for keeping rather than drawing down U.S. presence in the Middle East,” Lee said in a statement.

Other sponsors of the bill include Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike House set for tight vote on COVID-19 relief package On The Money: Democrats scramble to save minimum wage hike | Personal incomes rise, inflation stays low after stimulus burst MORE (I-Vt.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Health Care: 50 million coronavirus vaccines given | Pfizer news | Biden health nominees Rand Paul criticized for questioning of transgender health nominee Haley isolated after Trump fallout MORE (R-Ky.), and Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Senate ref axes minimum wage, House votes today on relief bill Partisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission Trumpists' assaults on Republicans who refuse to drink the Kool-Aid will help Democrats MORE (D-Del.).

The new bill would work by making some of the limits of the MTCR legally binding through amending the Arms Export Control Act. 

Under the legislation, drones that can carry more than 1,100 pounds of weapons over roughly 186 miles – including the General Atomics-built MQ-9 Reaper and the Northrop Grumman-made RQ-4 Global Hawk – would be once again subject to pact’s strict rules.

The bill’s exceptions to the sales ban would include NATO members in addition to Australia, Israel., Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.