Military Capabilities

Momentum builds to Block US arms sales to Saudi Arabia

18 October 2018

US President Donald Trump hosts Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia at the White House. Source: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

Congressional momentum is building within the United States for blocking defence exports to Saudi Arabia after the disappearance of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, although questions linger over what equipment to ban Riyadh from buying.

Speaking to reporters at a 17 October breakfast in Washington, DC, Senator Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Service Committee, called for an "international investigation" into Khashoggi's disappearance and reported death during a visit to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

"It appears that this was a grotesque and obscene act by the elements within Saudi Arabia," Reed told reporters. "First step, I think, is to determine exactly what happened. That, I believe, requires a thorough international investigation, not something that the Saudis will do."

Reed left the door open for who could head up such an investigation but noted that the FBI and Turkish law enforcement officers would play key roles. After that, the findings could potentially move to adjudication, or a report could be released for the international community to decide how to respond.

When asked what course of action he supported, Reed said he wanted to keep all options on the table, adding that he supports equipping Saudi Arabia with defensive capabilities like the Patriot surface-to-air missile system regardless of the circumstances surrounding Khashoggi's disappearance. Some weapons are a 'no-go' due in part to Saudi operations in Yemen, Reed said.

"I did not support the sale of precision-guided munitions to the Saudis because … even then I felt skeptical about their ability to contribute in a principled and meaningful way to our efforts over there," Reed said.

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