Senior US lawmakers have called on the UK to live up to its “moral responsibility” and help end both countries “complicity” in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, in a sign of the pressure the UK will face in Washington to join the Biden administration and end weapons sales to the kingdom.
In his first speech devoted to foreign policy, the US president, Joe Biden, announced last week that the US would end support for the Saudi-led offensive in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.
The question now is how far the administration will go to push allies to take similar steps, especially in the UK, where British officials revealed this week that the UK authorised the export of almost £1.4bn of weapons to Saudi Arabia between July and September.
Senator Ron Wyden, the Democratic chairman of the powerful finance committee and a leading critic of Saudi Arabia, said in a statement to the Guardian that he believed the US should not “be in the business of selling weapons to governments with a track record of using them to commit atrocities”.
“American allies like the UK and France should follow suit immediately and stop enabling the Saudi regime,” he said.
Senator Chris Murphy, another Democrat who has led the push to end offensive US weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, told the Guardian he knew many in the UK “share our concerns about weapons sales fuelling the war in Yemen”.
“The respective economic benefits of these sales do not outweigh our national security and moral responsibility to end complicity in this ongoing nightmare. The United States and the United Kingdom acting in concert is more powerful than either of us acting alone, and I hope that our governments can work together to prioritise a diplomatic resolution to the conflict in Yemen,” he said.
The state department has so far declined to weigh in on the matter, and did not comment on questions about whether the Biden administration would push Boris Johnson’s government to follow suit.
“We have re-established an interagency process for working through the details of individual cases, led by the White House and with all relevant agencies at the table, bringing expertise, discipline, and inclusivity back to our policymaking on these issues. We refer you to the UK government to speak to its arms export policies,” the spokesperson added.
On Monday, the UK insisted it would not follow suit despite pressure from some high-profile Conservative backbenchers. Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said that Biden’s decision was solely a matter for Washington.
Policy and defence analysts said it was too soon to predict how much pressure Biden would seek to put on Johnson at a time when the US is seeking to strengthen its diplomatic relationships around the world. It was also unclear to some whether the US would seek to stop US defence manufacturers from selling parts to UK defence companies that sell arms to Saudi Arabia.
“I think any pressure on the UK will be done quietly and privately,” said Kirsten Fontenrose, director of the Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council and a former senior director for Gulf affairs at the National Security Council under the Trump administration.
“[Biden] can’t come in more overbearing than the previous president was, and that’s what it would look like if he tried to pressure the UK to cripple their economy further in a post-Covid attempt at economic recovery,” Fontenrose said.
She added that the Johnson government would seek to “stick by” their weapons sales amid pressure from the UK defence industry to strike “while the iron is hot” and gain ground in the competitive arms market in Saudi Arabia following the US departure.
“The UK facet of the Saudi deal raises complications that the Biden administration isn’t ready to deal with yet,” said US defence analyst Loren Thompson.
“This administration does not like the government of Saudi Arabia, and holds it in low regard. But that runs contrary to the interests and perhaps also the inclination of the British government. Britain’s an important ally so this will have to be reconciled,” he added.
Raytheon, the world’s third largest arms manufacturer, told investors last month that it was removing a $519m projected sale of an offensive weapons system to a Middle East customer, but could not offer more details.
“Bear in mind that the president of the United States is ultimately the biggest customer of these companies. He leads an executive branch that is the world’s largest purchaser of both weapons and technology. So they really will have to be circumspect in terms of what they say on the record,” Thompson said.
While there are hundreds – if not thousands – of US suppliers to UK weapons makers, experts said those are not likely to be affected by the US ban on offensive weapons unless the US moved to impose sanctions Saudi Arabia in the future.
In Washington, the Biden administration has yet to fulfil a promise to release an unclassified report into the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Fontenrose and other experts said that the details of that report, including whether it contains a “smoking gun” that proves that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder could determine how the US – and allies – proceed.
“If the US wants to, it can put an awful lot of pressure on the UK and the UK would have to buckle,” said Roy Isbister, head of the arms unit at Saferworld, an organisation focused on conflict prevention.
If the UK does not follow suit, and if the US is serious in its ambition to move the Saudi Arabian policy, the UK could “potentially undermine” US policy, Isbister added.
“For Saudis to sustain its air engagement in Yemen, it needs ongoing support from its suppliers. I’ve heard any number of people say the Saudi air forces starts falling out of the sky pretty quickly unless they have support.”
The post 2021-02-12 05:00:33 | US lawmakers urge UK to help end complicity in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen | Saudi Arabia
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