The United States has approved massive arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates worth more than $5 billion, amid criticism of their ongoing military aggression in Yemen which has inflicted heavy civilian casualties.
The notice of approval came on Tuesday, two weeks after US President Joe Biden made a controversial trip to Saudi Arabia and met with Saudi leaders in an effort to reset strained relations with Riyadh.
The State Department said Saudi Arabia would buy 300 Patriot MIM-104E missile systems and related equipment for an estimated $3.05 billion. The missile systems can be used to shoot down long-range incoming ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as fighter jets.
"This proposed sale will support the foreign policy goals and national security objectives of the United States by improving the security of a partner country that is a force for political stability and economic progress in the (Persian) Gulf region," the State Department said in a statement.
"The proposed sale will improve the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's capability to meet current and future threats by replenishing its dwindling stock of PATRIOT GEM-T missiles," it added.
Separately, the United States will sell Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) System Missiles and related equipment to the UAE for $2.25 billion.
"This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of an important regional partner. The UAE is a vital US partner for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East," the State Department said.
Although Tuesday's approvals are for defensive weapons, they may still draw opposition in Congress, where lawmakers backed the Biden administration’s decision last year to ban US sales of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE because of their actions in Yemen.
The Biden administration is also considering lifting its ban on US sales of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia.
Since the beginning of the war in 2015, the use of US weapons by the Saudi-led coalition in airstrikes on civilian targets in Yemen has been well documented.
As a candidate, Biden had vowed to make the Saudi kingdom a “pariah” on the global stage over the war in Yemen as well as the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist and political dissident Jamal Khashoggi.
Soon after taking office, Biden appeared to be delivering on the promise, when he declared in February 2021 a halt to US support for the Saudi military operations in Yemen, including “relevant arms sales.”
His administration also released US intelligence findings that concluded Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally approved the operation targeting Khashoggi.
Biden, however, has softened his approach in recent months, moving to improve US relations with Saudi Arabia in the hope of getting the world's top oil exporter to increase oil production in order to offset loss of Russian supplies to the global market and drive down gasoline prices at home.
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