U.S. cuts Saudi arms sales as re­buke over Ye­men

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY JOSH LEDERMAN

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is ter­mi­nat­ing some sales of mil­i­tary arms to Saudi Ara­bia over con­cerns about the killings of civil­ians in Ye­men by a Saudi-led coali­tion, a se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial said Tues­day, an un­usual re­buke to a key ally even as Wash­ing­ton said it was ramp­ing up sup­port for Saudi’s bor­der de­fenses and other in­tel­li­gence-shar­ing.

The de­ci­sion to pull back planned sales of pre­ci­sion-guided mu­ni­tions stems from a review or­dered by the White House in Oc­to­ber af­ter the bomb­ing of a funeral hall in Ye­men that killed more than 140 peo­ple, thrust­ing long­stand­ing con­cerns about civil­ian ca­su­al­ties into the spot­light. Hu­man rights groups have said the Saudis have tar­geted houses, hos­pi­tals and schools, and have pres­sured the U.S. to with­draw sup­port for the Saudi coali­tion, which is fight­ing Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Ye­men.

In ad­di­tion to halt­ing the sales of mu­ni­tions, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is curb­ing some in­tel­li­gence-shar­ing with Saudi Ara­bia that could be used in ways that would lead to civil­ian ca­su­al­ties, the of­fi­cial said, while de­clin­ing to pro­vide de­tails. The U.S. also is look­ing to “re­fo­cus” the train­ing it con­ducts for Saudi Ara­bia’s air force to ad­dress U.S. con­cerns about how the Saudis choose their tar­gets.

The Pen­tagon, the State Depart­ment and other U.S. agencies were in­volved in the re­tool­ing of sup­port for Saudi Ara­bia, said the of­fi­cial, who wasn’t au­tho­rized to com­ment by name and re­quested anonymity. The of­fi­cial said the de­ci­sion re­flected deep con­cerns about Saudi tar­get­ing meth­ods and the de­sire to show that U.S. mil­i­tary aid is not a “blank check.”

Other U.S. sup­port for Saudi’s coali­tion will con­tinue unim­peded, in­clud­ing re­fu­el­ing of coali­tion air­craft by the U.S. mil­i­tary. The U.S. also is in­creas­ing the amount of in­for­ma­tion and anal­y­sis it shares with Saudi Ara­bia about threats to the Saudi bor­der, re­flect­ing Saudi con­cerns about ex­trem­ists cross­ing over from Ye­men to launch at­tacks.

Other mil­i­tary sales to Saudi Ara­bia are ex­pected to con­tinue unim­peded, such as $3.5 bil­lion worth of Chi­nook cargo heli­copters and equip­ment that the State Depart­ment ap­proved last week. That aid was in­tended to bol­ster the king­dom’s “home­land de­fense and de­ter re­gional threats,” a nod to Saudi con­cerns about at­tacks Houthi rebels have launched across the bor­der in Saudi Ara­bia.

The mixed ap­proach — scal­ing back sup­port for the Saudis in some ar­eas while in­creas­ing it in others — il­lus­trated the com­plex mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship be­tween the coun­tries and Wash­ing­ton’s de­sire not to aban­don the Saudis whole­sale in Ye­men. While the U.S. has been dis­mayed by the harsh way the Saudis have pros­e­cuted the con­flict, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has sought to keep the pres­sure on the Houthis, whose fail­ure to abide by cease-fire deals has vexed diplo­matic ef­forts to re­duce vi­o­lence.

The Saudis are lead­ing a coali­tion of mostly Arab coun­tries fight­ing on be­half of an in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized gov­ern­ment in Ye­men. The con­flict be­gan in March 2015 and has killed roughly 9,000 peo­ple, cre­at­ing a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis and famine con­di­tions in Ye­men, the Arab world’s poor­est na­tion.

Fu­el­ing U.S. con­cerns about the Shi­ite Houthis are their ties to Iran, Saudi Ara­bia’s chief ri­val for re­gional in­flu­ence in the Mid­dle East. The U.S. ac­cuses Iran of sup­ply­ing weapons to the Houthis, with the U.S. Navy say­ing it has in­ter­cepted sev­eral boats car­ry­ing Ira­nian weapons sus­pected of be­ing mid­jour­ney to Ye­men. Iran has said it sup­ports the Houthis but has de­nied arm­ing them.

In Oc­to­ber, the U.S. in­volved it­self even fur­ther in the con­flict when the U.S. mil­i­tary launched mis­sile strikes on Houthi-con­trolled radar sites, in what the U.S. called self-de­fense fol­low­ing Houthi mis­sile fire on U.S. Navy ships. Pre­vi­ously, Amer­i­can mil­i­tary strikes in Ye­men had been lim­ited to drone strikes against the lo­cal al Qaeda af­fil­i­ate.

Yet some law­mak­ers and hu­man rights groups have sug­gested that the U.S. could be con­sid­ered com­plicit in Saudi war crimes in Ye­men be­cause of its sup­port for the coali­tion, which has in­cluded ad­vice on airstrikes.

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