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US planning to lift ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia amid regional escalation

December 24, 2023 at 9:23 am

President of the United States Joe Biden in Bear, Delaware, United States on 6 November, 2023 [Kyle Mazza/Anadolu Agency]

The United States’ administration under president Joe Biden is reportedly planning to relax restrictions on weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, as Riyadh advances peace talks with the Houthi militia in Yemen.

According to a report by the New York Times, anonymous American and Saudi officials informed it that in recent weeks, Saudi officials have been pressing US lawmakers and presidential aides to ease the ban on sales of offensive weapons to the kingdom, which was imposed two years ago due to human rights and war crimes concerns.

The Biden administration implemented the ban at the time due to fears that weapons provided to the Saudis by the US had caused significant suffering for civilians in Yemen, where hundreds of thousands were killed by airstrikes, conflict, hunger, and disease throughout Riyadh’s war against the Iran-backed Houthi militia which had taken over significant parts of the country.

READ: Houthi Leader responds to possible threat of escalation against Yemen

The planned partial or full lifting of the ban, which currently blocks the sale of major offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia, is reportedly being considered due to the kingdom’s need to protect its southern border with Yemen in case of future clashes, as well as the general preparedness of Riyadh to handle escalating tensions in the region as a whole.

It comes amid Israel’s ongoing offensive in the Gaza Strip and the fears that it may extend into a regional conflict, propelled by the Houthis’ recent attacks on and seizures of ships passing through the Bab al-Mandeb strait to the Red Sea over the past two months.

According to the NYT report, US officials refrained from saying when the easing of the ban on sales may occur, but it is speculated that the planned move could be reversed if president Biden and his administration decides it goes against American interests to allow the offensive weapons to continue their flow to the Arab Gulf kingdom.

READ: Saudi, UAE divided over US efforts to counter Houthi Red Sea threat