0813 GMT November 17, 2019
As The New York Times reported Friday, President Donald Trump's emergency declaration last month greenlighting billions of dollars in US weapons sales to Saudi Arabia without congressional approval contained a provision that permits Raytheon to "team up with the Saudis to build high-tech bomb parts in Saudi Arabia."
The provision, according to the Times, immediately "raised concerns that the Saudis could gain access to technology that would let them produce their own versions of American precision-guided bombs—weapons they have used in strikes on civilians since they began fighting a war in Yemen four years ago."
"The move grants Raytheon and the Saudis sweeping permission to begin assembling the control systems, guidance electronics, and circuit cards that are essential to the company's Paveway smart bombs," the Times reported. "The United States has closely guarded such technology for national security reasons."
In a detailed investigation published last month, the Times found that the Saudi kingdom had “ordered more than 27,000 missiles worth at least $1.8 billion from Raytheon alone.”
“About $650 million of those Raytheon orders," the Times reported, “came after the Saudi war in Yemen began.”
William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, warned that handing the Saudis the capacity to develop high-tech bombs on the level of US weaponry could have disastrous consequences for the people of Yemen, who are already suffering from the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
“If Saudi Arabia is able to develop an indigenous bomb-making capability as a result of this deal,” Hartung said, “it will undermine US leverage to prevent them from engaging in indiscriminate strikes of the kind it has carried out in Yemen.”
Multiple reports by human rights groups over the past four years have singled out the weapons as being used in airstrikes on civilians. One attack, on a Sana’a funeral home in October 2016, led Barack Obama administration to suspend bomb sales to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
According to the Times, the Trump administration's agreement with Raytheon "is part of a larger arms package, previously blocked by Congress that includes 120,000 precision-guided bombs that Raytheon is prepared to ship to the coalition."
"These will add to the tens of thousands of bombs that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have already stockpiled," the Times reported, "and some in Congress fear the surplus would let the countries continue fighting in Yemen long into the future."
As Common Dreams reported in April, Trump vetoed a congressional effort—led by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ro Khanna—to end US complicity in the Saudi assault on Yemen by halting military assistance to the kingdom.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers is now planning a series of votes in an attempt to block Trump's emergency declaration on Saudi arms sales.
"We will not stand idly by and allow the president or the secretary of state to further erode congressional review and oversight of arm sales," said Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senators’ separate measures
A group of senators that includes Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul, and Robert Menendez announced on Wednesday that they would introduce 22 separate measures expressing disapproval of the deals.
“Few nations should be trusted less than Saudi Arabia,” Paul said in a statement on Thursday. “In recent years, they have fomented human atrocities, repeatedly lied to the United States and have proved to be a reckless regional pariah. It is concerning and irresponsible for the United States to continue providing them arms.”
In the House, the Foreign Affairs Committee has scheduled a hearing for next week in which members plan to question R. Clarke Cooper, the State Department official whose bureau licenses arms exports, the Times reported.
“The Saudis and Emiratis have become so intertwined with the Trump administration that I don’t think the president is capable of distinguishing America’s national interests from theirs,” said Representative Tom Malinowski, who sits on the committee. “The administration has presented us no evidence that Saudi Arabia and the UAE face any substantially new or intensified threat from Iran that would justify declaring an emergency.”
Malinowski, a top human rights official under President Obama, said the bombs were for use in Yemen, not for defending the Saudi or Emirati homeland from Iran, as some Trump administration officials have suggested.
A Raytheon spokesman said there was nothing unusual about the production arrangement.
“Industrial participation by local partners has been an element of international sales of military equipment for decades,” said the spokesman, Mike Doble. “These activities and related technologies are governed by the Arms Export Control Act, controlled by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, and conform to all licensing rules and restrictions of the United States government.”
The production agreement took some lawmakers by surprise. Representative Ted Lieu, a California Democrat and an outspoken critic of the Yemen war, said it seemed “to serve no purpose other than to forfeit our technology and prevent future congressional oversight.”
The arrangement, which would effectively outsource jobs, appears to be at odds with Trump’s position that arms sales are important because of the American jobs they create.
Rob Berschinski, a senior vice president at Human Rights First, an advocacy group, said the administration’s decision was “about siding unreservedly with favored Middle Eastern authoritarians, no matter who they kill or how they repress their citizens.” Berschinski, a former deputy assistant secretary of state, added, “It has nothing to do with American jobs.”
Congress had been informally blocking the sale of the smart bombs at least since May last year, when Menendez and Representative Eliot L. Engel, the New York Democrat, expressed concerns over how the Saudis were using the weapons in Yemen. Opposition intensified after American intelligence officials concluded that the Saudi government played a role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident and columnist for The Washington Post.