WASHINGTON – Ahead of an expected vote later today, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged Congress to pass his bipartisan resolution to block a portion of new weapons sales to Saudi Arabia in support of their military campaign in Yemen. Murphy, who introduced the bill with U.S. Senators Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), emphasized that the United States’ unconditional support for the Saudi-led coalition is in the detriment of U.S. national security interests. The Saudi-led campaign in Yemen has led to thousands of civilian casualties and caused a security vacuum that has empowered terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIS. The Senate is expected to vote on Murphy’s resolution later this afternoon. Click here to view video of Murphy’s remarks.
“What is happening today in Yemen is a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions. Last week, we received word that 100,000 people in Yemen now have cholera. Civilians are dying, extremist groups are growing, the Yemeni population is being radicalized against us, and to exacerbate matters, the Trump administration walked away from the process. For those that want to throw more arms into this contest, I think it's hard to believe that ultimately that will lead to any cease-fire or any peaceful transition to a new government if the United States is totally absent from the negotiating table, as we are today,” said Murphy. “The Yemeni people….don't perceive this bombing campaign that is killing thousands of civilians as a Saudi bombing campaign – they perceive it as a U.S.-Saudi bombing campaign.
Murphy continued, “This body should have a debate as to whether it's in the United States’ national security interest to get drawn more deeply into the set of proxy wars that is playing out in the region between the Sunnis and the Shia. And so what we are asking for is to hold off on selling these precision-guided munitions until we get some clear promise, some clear assurance from the Saudis that they are going to use these munitions only for military purposes and that they are going to start taking steps -- real steps, tangible steps -- to address the humanitarian crisis.”
Last month, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee received official notice of pending sales of offensive weapons, including precision-guided munitions. The newly noticed sale is part of a broader arms agreement that the Trump administration said would commit the United States to nearly $110 billion in immediate defense equipment sales and training and up to $350 billion over 10 years.
The full text of Murphy’ s remarks is below:
“There is a different president today, but there is a different policy and that's what this resolution is about. Let me be very clear about what we are talking about here today.
“Senator Graham would have you believe that we are about to vote on the entirety of the $110 billion in arms sales that was proposed, that was unveiled by President Trump during his visit to Saudi Arabia. That is not the case. We are voting today on $500 million of that $110 billion sale. You can still be friends with Saudi Arabia and sell them $109.5 billion worth of arms rather than $110 billion worth of arms.
“The specific set of arms we are talking about, precision-guided missiles that will be used to perpetuate the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen, were the specific set of weapons that the Obama administration refused to transfer to the Saudis at the end of 2016. We did not take a vote on this in 2016. We took a vote on a different arms sale. But it is not simply that there is a new president and Democrats are objecting to arms sales that President Trump is moving forward with. It is that we have a new policy. This specific set of munitions that President Trump is asking us to consent to President Obama would not sell. The policy is different, not just the personnel.
“And let's talk about why the policy is different. What is happening today in Yemen is a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions. There are four famines that exist in the world today, and one of them is in Yemen. And only one of those four is caused, in part, by the United States. The United States supports the Saudi-led bombing campaign that has had the effect of causing a humanitarian nightmare to play out in that country such that eight million people right now in Yemen are in starvation or on the brink of starvation. Last week, we received word that 100,000 people in Yemen now have cholera—all of this directly result of the civil war. And the reason that the Obama administration decided not to transfer the precision-guided munitions to the Saudis is because the Saudis were using the weapons that we were giving them to deliberately target humanitarian infrastructure and civilian infrastructure inside Yemen. The Saudis have made it pretty clear that time is on their side, that they can wait out the Yemeni population and them to the negotiating table. They suggest that this humanitarian catastrophe ultimately accrues to their benefit because it will eventually push the Houthis into supporting a better deal than they would otherwise for the Saudis.
“Let me give you some direct evidence of how this bombing campaign is leading to the humanitarian crisis. This cholera outbreak that has been covered in the news began, in part, because the Saudi airstrikes were targeting water treatment facilities. This is independent reporting from relief agencies that operate on the ground inside Yemen. They tell us that the Saudi bombing campaign targeting civilian infrastructure, in this case water treatment facilities has led to the cholera outbreak. They continue. The bombing that is leading to this catastrophe continues.
“And the reason that the Obama administration wouldn't sell them this specific set of arms is because they did not have confidence that the arms would be used to hit purely military targets. And so what we are asking for is to hold off on selling these precision-guided munitions until we get some clear promise, some clear assurance from the Saudis that they are going to use these munitions only for military purposes and that they are going to start taking steps -- real steps, tangible steps -- to address the humanitarian crisis. Senator Young has been very articulate on the things that the Saudis are doing to stop, to halt, to slow the flow of relief supplies into Yemen today. There are some proactive things that the Saudis could do that they are not that could save millions of lives inside Yemen today.
“More broadly, Mr. President, I think this is an important moment for U.S. policy in the Middle East. The Saudis are our friends. They are an important stabilizing nation in the Middle East. They have helped to broker a kind of detente between Sunni nations and Israel, our greatest ally. They cooperate with us on counterterrorism measures. They share intelligence with us. Clearly we have an important economic relationship. But they are an imperfect partner.
“This body should have a debate as to whether it's in the United States’ national security interest to get drawn more deeply into the set of proxy wars that is playing out in the region between the Sunnis and the Shia. That proxy battle plays out in Yemen, it plays out in Syria, it plays out in other ways in places like Lebanon. Just because you have a friend doesn't mean that you have to back every single one of your friend's fights. My friend asks me to hand them a rock to throw at the neighborhood kids, I’m not going to do it. If he wants me to help him stand up to the neighborhood bully, then maybe I’ll be there for him. Even with your friends, you decide what fights you join them in and what fights you don't.
“In Yemen, it's not just me that's making the argument that civil war is accruing to the detriment of U.S. national security interests, it's a broad swath of foreign policy experts, Middle Eastern experts in this city and across this country and across the globe. Why? Because this civil war is radicalizing the Yemeni people against the United States. They don't perceive this bombing campaign that is killing thousands of civilians as a Saudi bombing campaign – they perceive it as a U.S.-Saudi bombing campaign. Get your intelligence briefing and look at the difference in the amount of space that AQAP controls today versus what it controlled when the civil war began. AQAP, which is the arm of al-Qaeda that has the most capability to hit the United States, has grown exponentially in terms of the territory it controls. ISIS has grown as well. These extremist groups—they take advantage of the civil war. If our priority in the region is really about defeating these organizations, our civil war is not helping in that effort.
“Civilians are dying, extremist groups are growing, the Yemeni population is being radicalized against us, and to exacerbate matters, the Trump administration walked away from the process. Secretary Kerry was actively involved in trying to bring the Houthis and Saudi-backed government together. He got close to an agreement, but it fell apart. This administration has not restarted that process. And so for those that want to throw more arms into this contest, I think it's hard to believe that ultimately that will lead to any cease-fire or any peaceful transition to a new government if the United States is totally absent from the negotiating table, as we are today.
“So this is not about objecting to the entirety of the sale. This is not about delivering a broader message to the Saudis. This is about saying that this specific conflict in Yemen, it's not going well and it's hurting the United States. And until we get some real assurances from the Saudis that they are going to pay attention to the no-strike list, until we get some commitments from the Saudis that they will let relief supplies flow into Yemen to address the crisis there, then let's look at this arms sale.
“I'm proud to join with Senator Paul and others and I hope that my colleagues will see fit to support it when we vote in about an hour and a half.”