Trump administration advances bomb sale to Saudis

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The State Department has notified Congress that it is moving forward with issuing a license for the sale of precision-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia, a person familiar with the situation confirmed to The Hill.

The license, the advancement of which was first reported by Bloomberg News, would allow Raytheon to directly sell Saudi Arabia 7,500 of its Paveway air-to-ground “smart” bombs at an estimated value of $478 million.

Asked for comment, a State Department spokesperson told The Hill that federal law and regulation bars the department from “commenting on or confirming specific direct commercial sales defense trade export licensing cases.”

The administration is moving ahead with approving the license in the waning days of President Trump’s tenure over the objection of Democratic lawmakers.

Lawmakers in both parties have been increasingly opposed to selling the Saudis weapons amid thousands of civilian deaths in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Many lawmakers also reached their breaking point with the Kingdom when a Saudi hit squad killed and dismembered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, previously warned about an impending arms sale to the Saudis in a May op-ed for CNN in which he demanded the State Department justify it.

“The administration is currently trying to sell thousands more precision-guided bombs to the president’s ‘friend,’ Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” Menendez wrote.

“The administration has refused to answer our fundamental questions to justify this new sale and articulate how it would be consistent with US values and national security objectives,” he added.

Trump has made arms sales to the Kingdom an integral part of his foreign policy, arguing they are necessary to counter Iran and to boost jobs at U.S. weapons makers.

Paveway bombs were also part of the Trump administration’s controversial 2019 $8.1 billion “emergency” arms sale to the Saudis that Democrats charged circumvented congressional oversight. Congress eventually passed bipartisan resolutions to block those sales, but Trump vetoed them.

The State Department’s inspector general later found Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was within his authority to push through the sales, but faulted him for not ensuring American weapons weren’t used against civilian populations.

President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to review the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, though the license for the Paveway bombs could be issued before he takes office Jan. 20.

Tags Bob Menendez Donald Trump Joe Biden Mike Pompeo

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