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Biden’s suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE pressurizes UK to follow suit

26th Feb 2021
Biden’s suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE pressurizes UK to follow suit

(Photo credit: Alisdare Hickson/Flickr)

Harun Nasrullah

The White House temporary suspension of arms sales agreed by President Donald Trump to Saudi Arabia and the UAE has put pressure on the UK and other European countries to follow suit to help end the Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen, say human right NGOs. The UK Government has refused to follow the US and freeze arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The temporary freeze by President Joe Biden puts on hold the deal to sell 50 F-35 fighter jets to the UAE, as well as other arms destined for Saudi Arabia.

According to figures by the Department of International Trade between 2010 and 2019, UK arms companies signed £86 billion worth of contracts, 60 per cent of exports and contracts have gone to the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia being by far the largest client.

Since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, the UK has licenced at least £5.4 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime, including £2.7 billion worth of ML10 licences (Aircraft, helicopters, drones) and £2.5 billion worth of ML4 licences (Grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures), says the Campaign against Arms Trade (CAAT).

CAAT insists that the real figures are a great deal higher, with most bombs and missiles licenced via the opaque and secretive Open Licence system.

The UK’s biggest arms company, BAE Systems, has made £15 billion in revenue from services and sales to Saudi Arabia since 2015. UK-made fighter jets, missiles and bombs have played a central role in the war in Yemen, creating what the UN dubbed the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

New Secretary of State, Antony Blinken confirmed on January 27, the US was reviewing the commitments made to secure those pacts.

The Trump administration agreed on the F-35 sale after the UAE agreed to formalise diplomatic relations with Israel.

Saudi Arabia had been expecting the new US Administration to take a tougher stance after Biden criticised human rights abuses under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s watch and vowed to “review” relations with the kingdom.
Trump had put arms sales to Saudi Arabia at the core of his relationship with Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He also vetoed a bipartisan bill to end US support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen’s civil war.

Blinken also said he would review sanctions imposed on Yemeni rebels after warnings that the measures risked triggering the world’s worst famine in decades. While Blinken accused the group of committing atrocities, he said the

US should be focused on alleviating a humanitarian catastrophe.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE intervened in the war in Yemen to fight the Iranian-backed Ansarallah (Houthis) after the rebels seized Sana’a, the capital, in 2014 and forced the Yemeni Government into exile.“We’ve seen a campaign [in Yemen], led by Saudi Arabia, that has also contributed to what by many estimates is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today, and that’s saying something,” Blinken said. It was “vitally important” to get humanitarian assistance to people in desperate need, he added.

While Blinken said he had “real concerns” about some policies pursued by Riyadh, he also said the US “should do what we need to do to help defend Saudi Arabia against aggression directed at Saudi Arabia, including from Yemen and the Houthis.”

Human rights groups have urged the UK and other European countries to follow the US and suspend their arms deals to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

In 2019, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Government acted unlawfully when it licenced the sale of UK-made arms to Saudi-led forces for use in Yemen without assessing whether past incidents amounted to breaches of international humanitarian law, following a case brought by CAAT.

The Government was ordered not to approve any new licences and to retake the decisions on extant licences. However, in July, the Government announced that it was resuming arms sales. CAAT is considering all legal options to challenge the Government’s decision.

In a statement to The Muslim News CAAT’s Andrew Smith said, “If Biden sticks to his word and ends the arms sales it could be a huge step towards ending the brutal bombardment and blockade. It would also set a vital precedent and could help force action from the UK and the other arms dealing governments that have willingly ignored the destruction and enabled the humanitarian crisis.

“If US Government, the biggest arms dealer in the world, is prepared to take a stand, then it is long past time for Boris Johnson and his colleagues to do the same and to end their complicity in the crisis.”

“The suspension of arms sales by the US is a step in the right direction and ups the pressure on European countries – most notably the UK and France – to follow suit and stop fuelling the human misery in Yemen,” said Philippe Nassif, advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International USA.

The UK has refused to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia. “Decision of US arms sales are a matter for US Government,” said Prime Minister’s Spokesman on February 8. “UK takes arms export seriously. We will continue to assess all export licenses in accordance with strict licensing criteria,” he added.

Nassif said Amnesty has for years, “been warning western states that they risk complicity in war crimes as they continue to enable the Saudi-led coalition with arms. The Biden administration is finally acknowledging the disastrous effects of these continued sales, and puts to shame other states that continue to ignore the mountain of evidence of probable war crimes collected by Yemenis, the UN, and human rights organisations over the course of the past six years.”

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