December 07, 2021

Chairman Menendez Lays Out Opposition to Joint Resolution of Disapproval to Block Proposed Arms Sale to Saudi Arabia

“While I believe the United States must continue pushing for a political solution to the crisis in Yemen… I also believe we should continue supporting efforts to stop attacks on civilians.”

WASHINGTON –U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tonight took to the Senate Floor to lay out his opposition to S. J. Res. 31, a joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval of the proposed foreign military sale to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of certain defense articles.

“I carefully consider every arms sale that comes before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for review. Arms sales are a critical tool of foreign policy that can help bolster alliances while keeping Americans and our partners safe. However, we have to ensure our arms sales policies adhere to our core values including respect for human rights and human dignity,” Chairman Menendez said, highlighting his introduction of the Safeguarding Human Rights in Arms Exports or the SAFEGUARD Act to make the protection and promotion of human rights a core statutory principle in our arms sales export and monitoring process. “But I also believe it’s important that our security partners know that we will uphold our commitments and prioritize security arrangements that protect civilians. For that reason, I will oppose efforts to stop this particular sale. I will continue to hold sales as I have – there are many other sales that have not moved forward that I have not permitted to get out of the Committee – and continue my efforts to hold Saudi leadership accountable, and encourage my colleagues to do the same.”

Menendez continued: “Make no mistake, the Saudi-led coalition bears the brunt of the responsibility for the devastation in Yemen. Yet I along with most members of this body have always supported the use of weapons systems in defense of civilian populations. … Let’s also not also forget that we have about 70,000 American citizens living in Saudi Arabia. The weapons up for discussion today are being used in this context to defend against these aerial attacks. As air to air missiles, they are largely incapable of attacking civilian targets or infrastructure, a critical factor in my decision to support this sale.”

Find a copy of Chairman Menendez’s remarks as delivered below.

 

“Mr. President, I rise today to oppose the motion the Joint Resolution of Disapproval on the sale of air to air missiles to Saudi Arabia which are being used to defend against armed drone attacks from the Houthis.

 

I think everyone in this body well knows, I carefully consider every arms sale that comes before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for review. Arms sales are a critical tool of foreign policy that can help bolster alliances while keeping Americans and our partners safe. However, we have to ensure our arms sales policies adhere to our core values including respect for human rights and human dignity.

 

It is for that very same reason that I along with several of my colleagues here introduced the ‘Safeguarding Human Rights in Arms Exports’, or ‘SAFEGUARD’ Act, to make the protection and promotion of human rights a core statutory principle in our arms sales export and monitoring process. This legislation would enhance our collective oversight of all arms sales to countries that abuse human rights and I hope it it receives consideration in this body and in the House soon.

 

My colleagues may well remember in 2019 and 2020, that when I truly believe an arms sale undermines our American values or national security  – or when 22 sales are notified under false ‘emergency’ pretenses, for example – I will not hesitate to use the tools we have to stop those sales. In fact, that is exactly what we did in this body when I came to the floor and led that effort in conjunction with others. Beyond these extreme measures, the Committee carefully consults with the State Department and others on the ground to fully understand how weapons will be used.

 

We have all known for years that there is no military solution to the devastating and tragic conflict in Yemen. Indeed, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed my bipartisan Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act in 2019, which would have halted certain arms sales, stopped refueling, imposed accountability on the people involved in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and sought to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people. Unfortunately, the full Senate failed to act.

 

Make no mistake, the Saudi-led coalition bears the brunt of the responsibility for the devastation in Yemen. Yet I along with most members of this body have always supported the use of weapons systems in defense of civilian populations.

 

I wish to remind my colleagues that the Biden administration has largely suspended sales of many of the offensive weapons the Trump administration was all too happy to sell to the Saudis.

 

However, there’s no denying that the Houthis have increasingly deployed more sophisticated weapons – particularly armed aerial drones – to target civilian populations in Saudi Arabia. And let’s also not also forget that we have about 70,000 American citizens living in Saudi Arabia.

 

The weapons up for discussion today are being used in this context to defend against these aerial attacks. As air to air missiles, they are largely incapable of attacking civilian targets or infrastructure, a critical factor in my decision to support this sale. And while some have argued they could be ‘used’ to support the Saudi blockade, the fact is that most humanitarian aid is delivered via land and sea.

 

Indeed, tragically, the Saudis have been perfectly capable of blocking the delivery of aid for many years, and in more recent years, the Houthis have also created abhorrent obstacles for the delivery of food, medical supplies and other vital humanitarian aid, contributing to the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

 

While I believe the United States must continue pushing for a political solution to the crisis in Yemen, and I agree with several of the things my colleague Senator Sanders said, I also believe we should continue supporting efforts to stop attacks on civilians. According to the State Department, there have been close to 400 Houthi attacks this year, many of which get past the PATRIOT missile defense system. 

 

I know that some may see this vote as an opportunity to voice dissatisfaction with Saudi Arabia over a variety of its policies – from Yemen, to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi – which we have not forgotten – to the harassment of American citizens and their family members. So let me be clear that I completely agree with the need to push harder to hold Saudi leadership accountable for a variety of actions. I even offered a bill las month and an amendment to the NDAA to do just that. I’m hopeful we will see some of that language in a final product.

 

But I also believe it’s important that our security partners know that we will uphold our commitments and prioritize security arrangements that protect civilians. For that reason, I will oppose efforts to stop this particular sale. I will continue to hold sales as I have – there are many other sales that have not moved forward that I have not permitted to get out of the Committee – and continue my efforts to hold Saudi leadership accountable, and encourage my colleagues to do the same. With that, I yield the floor.”

 

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