Senate clears the way for arms to Saudis

United States Senate votes 71 to 27 to kill legislation that would have stopped the sale of tanks and other equipment to Riyadh.

Ben Ariel ,

Saudi flag
Saudi flag

The United States Senate on Wednesday cleared the way for a $1.15 billion sale of tanks and other military equipment to Saudi Arabia, Reuters reported.

The Senate voted 71 to 27 to kill legislation that would have stopped the sale.

The overwhelming vote stopped an effort led by Republican Senator Rand Paul and Democratic Senator Chris Murphy to block the deal over concerns including Saudi Arabia's role in the war in Yemen and worries that it might fuel an ongoing regional arms race.

The Pentagon had announced on August 9 that the State Department had approved the potential sale of more than 130 Abrams battle tanks, 20 armored recovery vehicles and other equipment to Saudi Arabia.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency said General Dynamics Corp would be the principal contractor for the sale.

Paul, Murphy and other opponents of the arms deal have been sharply critical of the Riyadh government during debate before the vote, citing Yemen, the kingdom's human rights record and its international support for a conservative form of Islam.

Saudi Arabia has a strict Islamic legal code under which murder, drug trafficking, armed robbery, rape and apostasy are all punishable by death.

Despite its violation of human rights, however, Saudi Arabia holds a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, being one of several countries with questionable human rights records to win seats in this body.

It is also leading the fight in Yemen against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

"If you're serious about stopping the flow of extremist recruiting across this globe, then you have to be serious that the ... brand of Islam that is spread by Saudi Arabia all over the world, is part of the problem," Murphy said Wednesday, according to Reuters.

The criticism came days before lawmakers are expected to back another measure seen as anti-Saudi, a bill that would allow lawsuits against the country's government by relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The House of Representatives approved the bill last Friday, after it had been passed by the Senate in May.

President Barack Obama, however, has promised to veto the bill. Congressional leaders say there is a strong chance that lawmakers will override the veto and let the measure become law.

Backers of the arms deal said Saudi Arabia is an important U.S. ally in a war-torn region, deserving of U.S. support.

"This motion comes at a singularly unfortunate time and would serve to convince Saudi Arabia and all other observers that the United States does not live up to its commitments," Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was quoted as having said.