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US halts arms sales to Saudi Arabia

5th February 2021 - 11:05 GMT | by The Shephard News Team

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Announcement by President Joe Biden signals a clear break with the policy followed by his precedessor Donald Trump, although a lucrative FMS to the United Arab Emirates remains untouched — for now.

US President Joe Biden announced on 4 February that his administration will freeze arms sales to Saudi Arabia, citing the ‘humanitarian and strategic catastrophe’ in Yemen.

In his first major foreign policy speech since being inaugurated last month, Biden pledged to end US backing for the Saudi-led coalition that is supporting government forces against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

‘This war has to end,’ said Biden. ‘And to underscore our commitment, we’re ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.’

However, Biden said that support would continue for Saudi defence against UAV and missile attacks from Houthis.

The announcement seems to mark a decisive break with the policy followed by previous President Donald Trump, who supported arms exports to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and other regional allies under the FMS programme.

As recently as 29 December 2020, for example, the State Department approved a $290 million FMS deal to include 3,000 GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb I munitions (examples pictured).

Shephard Defence Insight notes that Saudi Arabia is an existing GBU-39 user, having previously ordered 1,000 bombs.

The UAE is part of the anti-Houthi coalition and its air force has conducted in Yemen. Yet in contrast to the new policy on arms sales to Saudi Arabia, there are no signs yet that the Biden administration will suspend the major FMS package for the UAE, which was announced in November 2020. 

There is no such reluctance in Italy, where the government in late January blocked arms exports to both Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Will Biden follow this example in the new era of US multilateral co-operation? 

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The Shephard News Team

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