Senators move to block Trump’s $23B UAE arms sale
A bipartisan trio of senators launched an effort Wednesday to block the Trump administration’s $23 billion arms package to the United Arab Emirates.
Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Rand Paul (R-Ky.); and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) introduced four separate resolutions Wednesday that would kill the administration’s plan to sell the UAE F-35 fighter jets, armed drones, missiles and bombs.
“As I tried to warn the Trump administration, circumventing deliberative processes for considering a massive infusion of weapons to a country in a volatile region with multiple ongoing conflicts is downright irresponsible,” Menendez said in a statement.
Last week, the Trump administration notified Congress that it approved selling the UAE up to 50 F-35s worth $10.4 billion, up to 18 MQ-9B drones worth $2.97 billion and a package of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions worth $10 billion.
The formal notification kicked off a 30-day period in which Congress can block the sales with resolutions such as the ones introduced Wednesday.
Under the law governing U.S. arms sales, such resolutions are considered “privileged,” meaning senators can force a vote even if Senate leadership doesn’t support them.
Senators could force a vote as soon as 10 days after the resolutions are introduced.
Arms sales have been a frequent point of tension between Congress and the Trump administration.
Three of Trump’s eight vetoes have been on resolutions that would have blocked arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern partners.
The administration had used an expedited process to push the sales to the Saudis through despite congressional opposition stemming from their killing of civilians in the Yemen civil war and murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Trump was also forced to veto a resolution meant to end U.S. support for the Saudis in Yemen.
Lawmakers are also raising concerns about Yemen in their opposition to the UAE arm sale.
“The Emiratis are an important security partner, but their recent behavior indicates that these weapons may be used in violation of U.S. and international law,” Murphy said in a statement Wednesday. “The UAE has violated past arms sales agreements, resulting in U.S. arms ending up in the arms of dangerous militia groups, and they have failed to comply with international law in Libya and Yemen.”
Lawmakers have also been expressing concern about the sale eroding Israel’s military advantage in the region. The U.S. commitment to Israel’s so-called qualitative military edge is enshrined in a 2008 law.
The Trump administration advanced the sale after Abu Dhabi signed a normalization agreement with Israel at a White House ceremony in September in what has been dubbed the Abraham Accords.
Israel had initially continued to express opposition to selling the UAE F-35s after the Abraham Accords signing. But last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz said their country would not oppose the U.S. selling Abu Dhabi “certain weapons systems” after Washington agreed to unspecified upgrades for Israel’s military.
In his statement, Murphy said that while he supports the normalization agreement, “nothing in that agreement requires us to flood the region with more weapons and facilitate a dangerous arms race.”
“There are a number of outstanding concerns as to how these sales would impact the national security interests of both the United States and of Israel,” Menendez said in his statement. “As a result, Congress is once again stepping in to serve as a check to avoid putting profit over U.S. national security and that of our allies, and to hopefully prevent a new arms race in the Middle East.”