Accusations of war crimes, a spotty human rights record and a humanitarian nightmare in Yemen are just some reasons compelling a small group of US lawmakers to stop Saudi Arabia from buying billions in US arms.

Artillery is flung from an American made Howitzer over the Saudi Arabian border into Yemen.
Artillery is flung from an American made Howitzer over the Saudi Arabian border into Yemen. (TRT World and Agencies)

Citing a less than stellar human rights record, US Senator Rand Paul is leading an effort to permanently block a major arms deal with what he says is the US's 'unreliable ally' - Saudi Arabia.

The US State Department's Bureau of Political Military Affairs recently approved a sales agreement between the American company General Dynamics Land Systems and the Saudi Government, which would equip Riyadh with 130 Abrams battle tanks, 20 armored vehicles and various other military equipment priced at $1.15 billion.

The Senator's only hope of stopping the sale lies in taking advantage of the 30-day window in which US legislators vote to block the international sales of arms.

"I will work with a bipartisan coalition to explore forcing a [congressional] vote on blocking this sale," Paul told Foreign Policy magazine in a statement.

"Saudi Arabia is an unreliable ally with a poor human rights record. We should not rush to sell them advanced arms and promote an arms race in the Middle East."

Paul's proposal corresponds with Riyadh's resumed attacks within its southern neighbor Yemen, after UN-led peace talks disintegrated in Kuwait last week between Saudi-backed Yemen representatives and the Houthi rebels.

Increasing civilian casualty rates have led several aid groups to call for an end to the Saudi-led bombardment of its southern neighbor, saying the new arms deal gives tacit approval to Riyadh's actions.

"The international community must go ‘all in' on a peace agreement," said Scott Paul, a senior policy adviser at Oxfam America.

"A sale of major arms to Saudi Arabia signals the opposite — that the US is instead all-in on a senseless war that has created one of the world's largest humanitarian emergencies."

Saudi, for its part, has promised to spend over $250 million to fulfill the relief and humanitarian needs of the Yemeni people.

The King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Aid in Riyadh said it had already delivered 647 tons of dates to the Yemeni government and the World Food Program to be distributed to those in need. those in need.

The neglected humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the poorest country in the region, requires as much attention as is paid to Iraq and Syria. Over 21 million people in the civil-war ravaged country require some form of immediate humanitarian assistance.

"Every single civilian death inside Yemen is attributable to the United States."

The rights group Amnesty International has documented more than 30 Saudi air strikes across six different governorates that appear to have violated international humanitarian laws and might be considered war-crimes by the UN. These accusations, including claims that the Saudi-led coalition have been using internationally banned cluster bombs, have angered more than one US lawmaker.

Republican Senator Paul has a strong ally from across the political aisle, Democratic senator Chris Murphy. Both have long been opposed to US treatment of Yemen, and Murphy recently criticized his nation for providing its support to Saudi Arabia.

"If you talk to Yemeni Americans, they will tell you in Yemen this isn't a Saudi bombing campaign, it's a US bombing campaign," Murphy said, speaking on Capitol Hill in June.

"Every single civilian death inside Yemen is attributable to the United States. We accept that as a consequence of our participation," he said.

Defending the Saudi-led coalition, the UK's foreign secretary, Philip Hammond assured an investigative committee last year that Saudi Arabia was not targeting civilians, and that preventative measures were in place to reduce the risk of non-combative casualties, and uphold international humanitarian law.

"Saudi Arabia has throughout engaged in constructive dialogue with the UK about both its processes and incidents of concern," Hammond told the committee. "Saudi Arabia has been and remains genuinely committed to [international humanitarian law] compliance".

Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asiri said their coalition would continue to support supporting Yemen's government and its allies.

"The aim of the coalition is to create a strong, cohesive government with a strong national army and security forces that can combat terrorism and impose law and order across the country," said al-Asiri.

The State Department has defended the deal.

"This proposed sale is aimed toward strengthening Saudi Arabia's long-term defense capabilities," said David McKeeby, an official at the department's Bureau of Political-Military Affair

Saudi Arabia has been the recipient of Paul's criticism in the past. He spearheaded a legal effort to declassify some 28 redacted pages of the official September 11 report, which purported to link Saudi government officials, members of the Saudi royal family, suspected Saudi intelligence operatives to 9/11 hijackers.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies