US arms sales to UAE draw fire from 29 rights groups

The sale includes drones from privately held General Atomics, Lockheed Martin Corp F-35s and missiles made by Raytheon. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Twenty-nine arms control and human rights organisations have signed a letter opposing the sale of US$23 billion (S$30.85 billion) worth of missiles, fighter jets and drones to the United Arab Emirates and asking the US Congress to block the deal.

"The hope is to stop these sales altogether," said Mr Seth Binder, advocacy officer at the Project on Middle East Democracy, who spearheaded the effort. "But if that is not possible in the short term, this sends an important signal to the incoming Biden administration that there is a diverse group of organisations that oppose delivery of these weapons."

Three US senators proposed legislation to halt the sale, which includes drones from privately held General Atomics, Lockheed Martin Corp F-35s and missiles made by Raytheon, setting up a showdown with President Donald Trump just weeks before he is due to leave office.

US law covering major arms deals allows senators to force votes on resolutions of disapproval.

However, to become effective resolutions must first pass both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The measure would also need two-third majorities in both the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-led House to survive a presidential veto.

Mr Trump administration officials briefed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the deal on Monday evening.

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, a sponsor of the resolutions of disapproval, responded later on Twitter: "Just a mind blowing number of unsettled issues and questions the Administration couldn't answer. Hard to overstate the danger of rushing this."

The sale was approved following a US-brokered agreement in September in which the UAE agreed to normalise relations with Israel.

The letter from the rights groups, sent to lawmakers and the State Department, said the planned arms sale would fuel continued harm to civilians and exacerbate humanitarian crises due to conflicts in Yemen and Libya.

Signatories to the letter include human rights organisations from the region, including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and Mwatana for Human Rights.

The UAE embassy in Washington told Reuters in a statement, "Aligned closely with US interests and values, the UAE's highly capable military is a forceful deterrent to aggression and an effective response to violent extremism."

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