The US administration of President Joe Biden has temporarily suspended the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in a significant move against the two US allies and in opposition to the preferential treatment given to the Gulf states by former President Donald Trump.
In a White House press conference yesterday, the new Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that he was reviewing the commitments guaranteed by the US towards Arab states who had normalised ties with Israel, despite praising and endorsing those agreements.
Last year, the Trump administration helped four Arab nations normalise their ties with Israel, starting with the UAE in August, followed by Bahrain, Sudan, and most recently Morocco. In return for those moves, those countries also received guarantees by the US on certain issues, such as the UAE being reluctantly promised F-25 fighter jets, Sudan being removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and Morocco having its sovereignty over the Western Sahara recognised.
Trump was also close with Saudi Arabia’s notorious Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, allowing numerous arms deals to be cemented with the kingdom, which is the world’s biggest arms importer with the US as its biggest supplier.
Under Biden’s temporary measure, the landmark sale of 50 F-35 fighter jets to Abu Dhabi and the other arms sales to Riyadh have all been put on hold.
Biden’s decision comes amid long-time calls by activists and rights groups for the US and other nations to cease arms deals with Saudi Arabia due to its poor human rights record, its assassination of dissidents, and its ongoing war in Yemen which began in 2015.
The war in Yemen, which sees a Saudi-led coalition which includes the UAE battle the Iran-backed Houthi group, has led to what the UN has described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with over 80 per cent of the population – 24 million people – reliant on humanitarian aid.
Under Trump, however, humanitarian aid became harder to deliver to Yemen as the then-US president designated the Houthis a terrorist organisation, leading to calls for Biden to reverse the decision.
Blinken addressed those concerns, stating that he would review sanctions imposed on the group amid warnings that they could cause the world’s worst famine in decades. While acknowledging that the Houthis have committed atrocities and war crimes, Blinken said that the US should focus primarily on avoiding a humanitarian catastrophe.
On Monday, Biden suspended some of Trump’s sanctions against the Houthis and approved all deals involving the group for the period of one month, allowing companies and entities to proceed with deals in order to prevent fears of a famine.