As Saudi Prince Visits D.C., Senate to Vote on Ending Trump's Military Support for Yemen Bombings

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U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) greets students gathering outside the U.S. Capitol as part of a nationwide walk-out of classes to demand stricter gun laws in Washington, U.S.,  March 14, 2018
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) greets students gathering outside the U.S. Capitol as part of a nationwide walk-out of classes to demand stricter gun laws in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2018Credit: REUTERS/Jim Bourg

The U.S. Senate is set to vote Tuesday on a resolution directing the U.S. military to stop cooperating with Saudi-led air raids in Yemen, a move the Trump administration fiercely opposes. The vote comes the same day U.S. President Donald Trump is Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Supporters of the bipartisan Senate resolution, which has the backing of conservative Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), are pressing hard for a debate.   

“The Constitution is pretty clear on this point. It says that Congress shall have the power to declare war. Congress, not the president, not the Pentagon, but Congress,” Lee said on the floor last week.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis defended U.S. military support to Saudi Arabian-led coalition forces in Yemen on Thursday as he explained a personal appeal to lawmakers who are considering whether to end Washington's involvement in the devastating conflict.

The Trump administration has been warning Saudi Arabia since last year that concern in Congress over the humanitarian situation in Yemen, including civil casualties in the war, could constrain U.S. assistance.

Since it began in 2015, the conflict has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced more than 2 million and driven Yemen – already the poorest country on the Arabian Peninsula – to the verge of widespread famine.

In June 2017, the Senate narrowly rejected a move to block part of President Trump’s $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia. 

Defense contractor Raytheon is moving to finish the sale of 60,000 smart bombs to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Senators voted 47-53 on advancing the resolution, falling short of the simple majority needed to move forward. GOP Sens. Mike Lee (Utah), Rand Paul (Ky.) Todd Young (Ind.) and Dean Heller (Nev.) voted with most Democrats to advance it.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s first overseas visit was to Saudi Arabia. Trump’s son-in-law and policy adviser Jared Kushner was reportedly the key factor that persuaded Trump to make Saudi Arabia his first destination for a foreign state trip as president. Trump made the decision despite both then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis opposing the move, according to multiple officials.

Mattis too urged delaying the trip a year, saying a Riyadh visit would send the wrong signal to America's more democratic allies around the world. Kushner’s close relationship with MBS has grown to become a personal one which was reportedly key in Trump tweeting support for the Saudi anti-corruption crackdown.

Legal questions in France

France and its arms suppliers face heightened legal risks for supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE despite warnings such arms could be used in the war in Yemen, a law firm's report commissioned by human rights groups said on Monday.

The two Gulf Arab states are leading a coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi group that controls most of northern Yemen and the capital Sanaa. The conflict has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than three million.

The report follows criticism of President Emmanuel Macron by rights groups and French lawmakers over his support for the coalition, opaquearms sales and inadequate safeguards to prevent its weapons being used in Yemen operations.

"This study shows a legally high risk that France's arms transfers are contrary to its international commitments," concluded Joseph Breham et Laurence Greig, authors of Ancile Avocats' 92-page report commissioned by Amnesty International and the French human rights group ACAT.

"The French government has authorised exports of military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the UAE in circumstances where these weapons can be used in the conflict in Yemen and could be used to carry out war crimes."

Asked about the export licensing system, France's foreign ministry said government processes are "robust and transparent".

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