President Donald Trump had issued a formal veto threat over congressional efforts to block the planned arms transfer, which is linked to the normalization of UAE relations with Israel under the “Abrahamic Accords.”
Two procedural votes failed to win a majority of the 100-member Senate, ending efforts to block the sale of F-35 advanced fighter jets and Reaper drones.
Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said resolutions to block the arms sale fell far short of the two-thirds support that would be needed to overcome a presidential veto.
“It’s a little confusing to suggest that, now of all time, a gesture of protest with no chance of obtaining a veto-proof majority is a precious use of Senate time,” McConnell said in the comments. remarks from the Senate.
Supporters of the sale described the UAE as an important US partner in the Middle East. Opponents criticized the UAE for its involvement in the war in Yemen, a conflict described by the United Nations as one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.
The Trump administration told Congress on November 10 that it had approved the sale to the United Arab Emirates of weapons manufactured by General Atomics, Lockheed Martin Corp and Raytheon Technologies Corp.
The deal includes the F-35, the world’s most advanced combat aircraft; over 14,000 bombs and ammunition; and the second-largest US single-country drone sale.
The White House said the sales directly support US foreign policy and national security objectives by “allowing the UAE to deter aggressive behavior and growing Iranian threats” in the wake of its recent deal with Israel.
The threat of a veto was expected. U.S. law requires Congressional review of major arms agreements and allows senators to force votes on disapproval resolutions.
But to become effective, resolutions had to pass the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-led House of Representatives, and garner two-thirds majorities in both chambers to survive Trump’s veto.
Senator Chris Murphy, a leading critic of the arms deal, said on Twitter that the Trump administration’s decision to quickly block the deal, without giving Congress time to consider it, was intended to bind the hands of newly elected president Joe Biden.
Regarding the sale of arms to the UAE, the normal process gives the External Relations Committee time to consider and ask questions about the main arms sales.
But after Trump’s loss, he had to block the sale before Biden took office to tie Biden’s hands. So he just skipped the process.
– Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) December 8, 2020
Two resolutions seeking to block the sale of F-35s and Reaper drones failed by 47 to 49 and 46 to 50. All but two Democrats voted to block the deal. A Republican broke ranks to vote against the sale.
Biden won the Nov. 3 election and is expected to review sales. The House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats, will likely vote in favor of the resolutions.
Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat who forced votes in the Senate, argued that a US arms sale of this magnitude – without a broader Middle East strategy – risked triggering a new arms race in a region unstable.
“If we really want to talk about the fight against Iran, we need a comprehensive diplomatic strategy,” Menendez said.
“Arming partners with complex weapon systems that could take years – years – to come online is not a serious strategy to deal with Iran’s very real and timely threats,” Menendez said. .
Once the sale is closed, the UAE would become the first Arab country to acquire the F-35.