The State Department approved resuming the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, according to the Washington Post, reversing a decision made during the final months of the Obama administration. The approval paves the way for a deal with the Saudis that would give them precision guided munitions and would be worth roughly $390 million.
Although Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has personally approved the sale, a lengthy interagency process will still take place and approval by the National Security Council is also needed. The deal was originally halted back in December of last year, after critics expressed concerns over the large numbers of civilian casualties in Yemen.
“Urging the Saudis to end the war while continuing to provide the weapons they’re using is like trying to persuade a friend not to rob a bank while driving his getaway car,” Tom Malinowski, who served as the top human rights official at the State Department under President Barack Obama, told the Washington Post.
Saudi Arabia is leading an Arab coalition campaign in the ongoing Yemeni civil war against the Iran-linked Houthi rebels. The conflict will soon enter its third year and has caused the deaths of 10,000 civilians, as well as the displacement of roughly 3 million internally.
The U.S. has played a key role in the fight by providing the Saudis with weapons, aerial refueling and targeting intelligence. Restarting arms deals with the Saudis could be an indication that Trump will seek to continue a close relationship with the Royal Kingdom and the war in Yemen, while taking a hostile approach towards Iran and its possible influence in the region.
“If you are interested in radicalizing the Yemeni population against the United States and pushing them into al-Qaeda’s arms, then continue to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, told the Washington Post. “The Saudis are deliberately going after civilian targets.”