Republican, Democratic senators seek to block Trump Saudi arms sales

Backers said the introduction of the resolutions was intended to “protect and reaffirm Congress’ role of approving arms sales to foreign governments.”

The announcement followed furious rejection in Congress late last month of the Trump administration’s declaration that a growing threat from Iran was an emergency that forced it to sidestep lawmakers’ review of major arms deals and approve precision-guided munitions, aircraft engines, mortars and other equipment and services for Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan.

“We are taking this step today to show that we will not stand idly by and allow the President or the Secretary of State to further erode Congressional review and oversight of arm sales,” Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said.

The effort was led by Menendez, and Republican Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally who is also a critic of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

Members of Congress had been blocking sales of offensive military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the UAE for months, angry about the huge civilian toll from their air campaign in Yemen, as well as rights abuses such as the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

“While I understand that Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behavior of (Saudi Crown Prince) Mohammed bin Salman cannot be ignored. Now is not the time to do business as usual with Saudi Arabia,” Graham said in a statement.

Graham said he expected “strong bipartisan support” for the resolutions.

Many lawmakers say that the powerful crown prince is ultimately responsible for Khashoggi’s murder and other rights abuses. The government in Riyadh denies that.

Two other Republican senators - Rand Paul and Todd Young - and three Democrats - Chris Murphy, Patrick Leahy and Jack Reed - also joined the announcement.

‘EMERGENCY’

Declaring the emergency, the Trump administration informed congressional committees on May 24 that it was going ahead with 22 military deals worth $8.1 billion, circumventing a long-standing precedent for lawmakers to review major weapons sales.

The decision angered members of both parties, who worried that Trump’s decision to blow through the “holds” process would eliminate Congress’ ability to prevent not just Trump but future presidents from selling weapons where they liked.

Announcing their plan to introduce the 22 resolutions, the senators said Trump’s “unprecedented” action is at odds with longstanding practice and cooperation between Congress and the executive branch.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that lawmakers were working on responses to the administration’s action and could file legislation within days. A separate set of legislative responses is being considered in the House of Representatives. [L2N23B1W6]

The Arms Export Control Act gives Congress the right to stop major weapons sales by passing a resolution of disapproval in both the Senate and House.

Opponents of the weapons sales said strong bipartisan support for such resolutions would send a forceful message to the administration - as well as defense contractors and the three countries - that Congress was unhappy about the process and could retaliate.

They also said it was possible, given the level of congressional anger over Trump’s use of the emergency declaration, that some of the resolutions would garner the two-thirds majorities in the Senate and House needed to override a Trump veto if necessary.

(The story corrects third country to Jordan from Lebanon in third paragraph.)

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8yo boy kills 5yo sister and injures brother with handgun

A Florida mother could face criminal charges after her 8-year-old son killed his younger sister and injured his brother with a handgun while they were home alone.

The 8-year-old boy is currently helping Jacksonville Police with inquiries into how he came into possession of the firearm and discharged a single fatal bullet from the gun. 

Police in Jacksonville say the three children had been left alone in an apartment for an “undetermined period of time” on Saturday, while their mother went to a local store.

Police believe the shooting at a Roosevelt Gardens apartment complex to be accidental but have not ruled out charges being filed.

“Our investigation revealed that at the time of the shooting, the only occupants inside the apartment were an 8-year-old boy, a 5-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy,” police chief Chris Butler said.

“The mother had left the apartment for an undetermined period of time, so the children were home alone.

“Somehow the 8-year-old boy got possession of a handgun and discharged the handgun one time, striking both of the other children.”

READ MORE: 13-year-old with fake gun shot by private investigator

The bullet struck the five-year-old girl, killing her, while her four-year-old brother suffered a “non-life-threatening gunshot wound.” He is being treated at a local hospital, where doctors expect him to make a full recovery.

Witnesses to the incident are still being interviewed.

“We believe that as an agency, in absence of any other information being developed, that unfortunately this is a tragic, accidental shooting,” Butler said.

He said there was nothing to indicate that the shooting was intentional.

The Florida Department of Children and Families, which offers child welfare services, is assisting with the case. Meanwhile, a therapist has been provided to the 8-year-old boy who fired the weapon.

Speaking at a police press conference, Butler said charges have not been filed against anyone “at this time” and admitted he was reluctant to comment on an active investigation.

However, he said that previous cases involving violence carried out by children have seen the parents charged.

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US closed $40bn worth of global arms agreements in 2015, far outstripping competitors – study

The US took first place in closing weapons sales deals globally last year, signing agreements to sell about $40 billion worth of military hardware, accounting for half of all such contracts worldwide, according to a congressional study.

The study, titled ‘Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2008-2015,’ showed that the US placed well ahead of the number two weapons dealer, France, when it came to overall weapons agreements clinched in 2015. Paris signed deals worth $15 billion.

Russia placed third in closing global arms sales agreements, with $11.1 billion.

READ MORE: Canada defends record $11bn arms sale to Saudi Arabia in court

The US also sold more weapons to developing countries than any other country, accounting for 41 percent of such deals. The four major Western European suppliers (France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy) placed second as a whole, with 27 percent. Russia was third, with 17 percent.

Both the US and France managed to increase their weapons-agreement totals in 2015, despite a drop of almost $11 billion in arms sales overall globally.

Worldwide deliveries 

The US also ranked first in arms deliveries worldwide for the eighth year in a row, delivering nearly $16.9 billion worth of weapons.

Russia ranked second – a position it has also held for the past eight years – delivering arms worth $7.2 billion globally. France ranked third, with $7 billion in deliveries.

The three countries collectively delivered 67.77 percent of all arms supplied by all nations in 2015.

However, the combined value of international arms deliveries in 2015 dropped to nearly $46.2 billion, down from the previous year’s total of $54.1 billion.

Deliveries to developing nations

The US placed first when it came to delivering weaponry to developing nations, supplying $11.9 billion worth.

Russia and France tied for second place, totaling $6.2 billion each.

READ MORE: US authorizes F-15 fighter jet deal with Qatar, worth over $21bln

According to the study, developing nations took delivery of the lion’s share of weapons worldwide, scooping up military hardware accounting for 72.7 percent of the value of all international arms deliveries. Qatar, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Pakistan, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Iraq were listed as the largest buyers in the developing world.

However, developing nations purchased less on the whole in 2015, buying $65 billion worth of weapons compared to $79 billion the year before.

‘Arms market not growing’

While study author Catherine A. Theohary, a national security policy specialist at the Congressional Research Service, noted that global weapons sales had increased in 2015, she said that the international arms market is “not likely growing overall.”

“There continue to be significant constraints on its growth, due, in particular, to the weakened state of the global economy,” she wrote in the study.

“Concerns over their domestic budget problems have led many purchasing nations to defer or limit the purchase of new major weapon systems,” she added. “Some nations have chosen to limit their purchasing to upgrades of existing systems and to training and support services.”

The study, which was prepared by the Congressional Research Service, a division of the Library of Congress, was delivered to legislators last week. The annual report, which is considered the most comprehensive unclassified assessment of global arms sales, adjusts for year-to-year inflation.

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Putin: Russia ready to offer world most advanced anti-terrorist weapons

Russia has the most advanced weaponry and hardware to tackle terrorism, and is ready to offer it to foreign customers, President Vladimir Putin has said.

"We are prepared to offer our customers the most advanced anti-terrorist means, including combat planes, air defense systems, multiple-launch rocket systems and armored vehicles," Putin said as he chaired a meeting of the Commission for Russia’s Military-Technical Cooperation with Foreign States on Monday.

"Our country makes a significant contribution to the fight against international terrorism,” the Russian leader said, stressing that more and more countries are facing a surge in violence and growing terrorist threat. Putin added that “Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan are well-known examples."

He warned that terrorists around the globe have formed large armed groups, which have well-trained military experts and state-of-the-art weaponry, including Western-made units.

According to Putin, Russia “confidently ranks second in the world” on the arms market, being “ahead of France, Germany and the UK.”

Russia's arms export orders portfolio currently exceeds US$50 billion, with 100 foreign nations among Moscow’s partners, Putin stressed.

In 2015 alone, Russian weaponry and military equipment was supplied to 58 foreign countries, he added.

“At the same time we [Russia] act in traditionally tough competitive conditions and sometimes even face misbehavior by some partners," Putin said.

READ MORE: Russia has 25% of global arms sales, second only to US – study

The President urged the country’s arms makers and distributors to take the necessary steps in order to maintain high demand for Russian weaponry from foreign customers.

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