The White House has strongly opposed the US Senate’s efforts to block the Biden administration's first major arms sale to Saudi Arabia over the kingdom’s atrocities against the people of Yemen.
The proposed $650 million in US arms sales to the kingdom is facing a joint resolution of disapproval introduced by Republicans Rand Paul and Mike Lee, as well as Bernie Sanders who caucuses with Democrats.
The White House said in a statement on Tuesday that it “strongly opposes” the joint resolution of disapproval to block a proposed $650 million weapons sale to the Saudi government.
The administration of US President Joe Biden announced on November 4 that it had approved the sale of 280 air-to-air missiles valued at up to $650 million, despite the fact that Biden had vowed to “reassess” Washington’s ties with the conservative kingdom.
The Biden administration argued that the proposed military sale “would replenish Saudi Arabia’s existing inventory of air-to-air missiles” to defend against aerial cross-border attacks and would not be used to engage ground targets.
But Sen. Rand Paul, who introduced the joint resolution along with Lee and Sanders in November, argued on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen, including an air and naval blockade of Yemen, “is an abomination.”
“For years now, ships that would otherwise carry food, fuel, and medicine are turned away by the Saudi-led coalition, depriving the Yemeni people of the necessities to sustain civilization,” Paul wrote in an op-ed published in the American Conservative.
“But, this week, the Senate can start the process of ending this crisis by passing my legislation to cancel an American arms sale to Saudi Arabia that aids and abets the subjugation of the Yemeni people.”
On the House of Representatives side, Rep. Ilhan Omar introduced her own joint resolution aimed at blocking the weapons sale.
“It is simply unconscionable to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia while they continue to slaughter innocent people and starve millions in Yemen, kill and torture dissidents, and support modern-day slavery,” Omar said in a statement.
"We should never be selling human rights abusers weapons, but we certainly should not be doing so in the midst of a humanitarian crisis they are responsible for. Congress has the authority to stop these sales, and we must exercise that power," she added.
The White House, however, claimed the sale “is fully consistent with the Administration’s pledge to lead with diplomacy to end conflict in Yemen and end US support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, while also ensuring that Saudi Arabia has the means to defend itself” from Houthi air attacks.
The resolution's passage “would undermine the President’s commitment to aid in our partner’s defenses at a time of increased missile and drone attacks against civilians in Saudi Arabia,” the statement added.
The Pentagon on November 4 notified Congress of the sale which the State Department had approved in October. This comes amid harsh criticism against Saudi Arabia for its military onslaught on Yemen.
Saudi Arabia, backed by the US and regional allies, launched the war on Yemen in March 2015, with the goal of bringing the government of former president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi back to power and crushing the popular Ansarullah movement, which had overthrown the previous Saudi-backed Yemeni government.
The Saudi war has left hundreds of thousands of Yemenis dead, and displaced millions more. It has also destroyed Yemen’s infrastructure and spread famine and infectious diseases.