The Democratic chairman of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee has said he and other legislators are concerned about the administration of President Joe Biden’s decision to go ahead with a weapons sale to the United Arab Emirates and would review the transactions.
The Biden administration has told Congress it was proceeding with more than $23bn in weapons sales to the UAE, including advanced F-35 aircraft, armed drones and other equipment. Rights groups have condemned the sale, saying it would further stoke violence in Yemen, where the UAE is part of a Saudi Arabia-led coalition in fighting that has lead to the deaths of thousands of civilians and what the UN has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The sale were made in the last weeks of former Republican President Donald Trump’s administration and finalised only about an hour before Biden took office on January 20.
Biden had temporarily “paused” the sale, along with Trump-era arms sales to Saudi Arabia, in what the administration had described as a standard review process for an incoming administration.
On Wednesday, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Gregory Meeks said he still has “many questions about any decision by the Biden Administration to go forward with the Trump Administration’s proposed transfers of F-35s, armed UAVs (drones), munitions and other weapons.”
“Fortunately, none of these transfers would occur any time soon, so there will be ample time for Congress to review whether these transfers should go forward and what restrictions and conditions would be imposed,” he said.
Under current US law, the administration must notify Congress 30 days before a sale to a non-NATO ally is finalised. If this condition is met, the legislature’s only recourse is to pass legislation blocking or putting conditions on the sale. To assure the legislation becomes law, it would need the support in both chambers of Congress to override a presidential veto.
— FCNL (Quakers) (@FCNL) April 14, 2021
Trump had also previously sought to use a rarely-invoked “emergency” provision of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) to circumvent Congress in arms sales to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, although there is no indication Biden would be open to taking that route.
Rights groups said they were disappointed in the Biden administration’s decision to resume the sales.
“United States drones could be responsible for UAE attacks that violate international humanitarian law and kill, as well as injure, thousands of Yemeni civilians,” Philippe Nassif, advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International USA, said in a statement.
The New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs non-profit filed a lawsuit over the UAE sale. Its principal director, Justin Thomas Russell, said the weapons could fall into the wrong hands and that his group had hoped the Biden administration would make humanitarian concerns a higher priority.
“We had hoped for better things out of the Biden Administration … and now those hopes have been dashed,” he said in a statement.
The Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobbying group, called on Biden to “reconsider this decision” and on Congress “to take action to block the delivery of these weapons to the UAE”.