US considering lifting Saudi Arabia weapons ban – Reuters
Washington is contemplating lifting its ban on US sales of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia ahead of President Joe Biden’s visit to Riyadh later this week, Reuters reported on Monday, citing four sources familiar with the discussions.
Strictly internal at this time and at an early stage, the deliberations are informal and far from the decision-making stage, two of the sources indicated, with another US official stating no talks on the matter have so far been held with the Saudis. The sources expect the Biden administration’s decision will depend on whether Riyadh manages to get any closer towards ending its years-long war in Yemen in a political settlement, according to the report.
Additionally, the White House is approaching the matter with utmost caution, since the Saudi-led coalition is reported to have used US-made weapons against civilian targets, the sources said. Back in January, Amnesty International reported that the coalition used American precision-guided munitions in an airstrike on a detention center in Yemen, killing dozens of people.
Saudi officials have been trying to get the ban lifted for months now, putting pressure at any opportunity on their American counterparts to reverse the decision, the sources revealed. But it wasn’t until Saturday that Biden, who had previously called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state, made clear his intention to “reset” the US’ strained relations with its Gulf partner, in part to secure an increase in oil production that could help bring gas prices down.
“I know that there are many who disagree with my decision to travel to Saudi Arabia,” Biden wrote in a commentary published by the Washington Post. However, the visit will help to start “a new and more promising chapter of America’s engagement” in the Middle East – and “a more secure and integrated Middle East” is essential to Americans, since its energy resources are vital for mitigating the impact of Russia’s offensive in Ukraine, the president argued.
Biden’s commentary followed his administration’s attempts to get US’ Middle-Eastern partners to help alleviate what Washington keeps calling “Putin’s price hike.” Back in March, leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates reportedly snubbed Biden’s phone calls as he was expected to urge them to ramp up oil production.
Any attempts to reverse the ban on offensive arms sales to the Saudis are certain to encounter opposition from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, Reuters reports, citing congressional aides.
Biden adopted a tougher Saudi policy soon after his inauguration, aiming to punish Riyadh for a number of human rights violations, including heavy civilian casualties in its war against Houthi rebels in Yemen, as well the assassination of journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. However, he softened his stance this year after sanctions, imposed on Moscow over its operation in neighboring Ukraine, backfired heavily, contributing to soaring inflation and energy prices in the US.