McConnell Urges Senate to Stand With America’s Partners in the Middle East
‘So the Senate could hardly pick a worse time for clumsy and ill-considered resolutions that would hurt key relationships in the Middle East. Let’s not cut ourselves off from our partners. Let’s not undercut the administration at a time of such delicate diplomacy and tension with Iran. I ask my colleagues to vote down these resolutions.’
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor regarding arms sales to our partners in the Middle East:
“In addition to completing the NDAA, the Senate will today have to dispense with several more privileged resolutions concerning arms sales to close American partners in a troubled but important region. I’m glad we secured a bipartisan understanding yesterday to expedite their consideration, so that the 22 separate resolutions which members have introduced will not jeopardize the defense bill or the emergency border funding that we must also consider next week.
“So today, this body — yet again — will debate and cast votes concerning our relationship with Saudi Arabia. Just like we did in March. And December. And the previous March. I think the vast majority of senators share serious concerns over some of the policies and actions of our Saudi partners. But rejecting long-planned arms sales strikes me as an overly blunt tool, with several unintended consequences.
“For example, the arms sales affected by this vote are not just for Saudi Arabia, but for the United Arab Emirates. And they include sales that affect Israel, India, Korea, and Jordan. Last December, the Senate passed a nuanced resolution that delivered exactly the message we wanted to deliver: Our fury over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, our concerns about the war in Yemen, and our desire for more accountability. That was the right approach.
“So there is no shortage of tools available to United States Senators that are more appropriate to communicate frustrations and urge better behavior, whether from the administration or our partners. Senators could meet with Saudi officials to directly express their concerns. They could travel to the region to see first-hand the complicated, fluid situation. Rapid societal and economic change is providing Saudi citizens with unprecedented political openness, but also troubling human rights concerns and erratic policy decisions. The dynamics at play are not black and white. We can best shape these dynamics by working closely with our partners to encourage them in the right direction, rather than turning our back. Oh, and concerned members might also begin giving fairer treatment and more prompt consideration to the well-qualified experts who are waiting to contribute to our diplomacy.
“Recall that the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Near East Affairs just started his job last Monday after he’d been held up for more than a year. The top State Department job for the Middle East, held open for more than a year. The nominees for Ambassador to the UAE, Egypt, and Libya are having hearings today. I hope their confirmations will move more quickly than those of other senior diplomats, who have languished. So there’s no shortage of productive steps at members’ disposal. But recklessly canceling U.S. arms sales to key regional partners is not on that list.
“So the question the Senate will soon consider is really this. Whether we’ll lash out at an imperfect partner and undercut our own efforts to build cooperation, check Iran, and achieve other important goals. Or whether we’ll keep our imperfect partners close and use our influence. Whether we’ll push Riyadh and Abu Dhabi away from the United States and push them closer to Moscow and Beijing. Or whether we’ll stay engaged and help our partners course-correct where we can. Whether to signal -- at this hour of tension -- that we cannot be relied upon to stand with our friends, sending a message that will embolden Tehran. Or whether to find more private, effective ways of encouraging better behavior while sending a message of solidarity in troubled times.
“The situation in the Middle East, as we speak, could hardly be more fraught. The timing could not be worse for the Senate to send the wrong signal. In just the last several hours, we have seen reports that a missile from inside Yemen struck a utility plant in Saudi Arabia. This, after other attacks — almost certainly from the Iran-backed Houthi forces — on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, including attacks on civilian vessels and on a civilian airport. And again, just last night, Iran shot down a U.S. intelligence aircraft that was flying in international airspace.
“So the Senate could hardly pick a worse time for clumsy and ill-considered resolutions that would hurt key relationships in the Middle East. Let’s not cut ourselves off from our partners. Let’s not undercut the administration at a time of such delicate diplomacy and tension with Iran. I ask my colleagues to vote down these resolutions.”
Related Issues: National Security, America's Military, Iran