A bipartisan group of senators released legislation imposing sanctions, prohibitions and restrictions against Saudi Arabia and other entities considered responsible for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. This is the most significant threat of sanctions to emerge from the Congress since the murder of Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi on October 2nd.
The group, which is led by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Todd C. Young (R-Ind.) and includes Trump confidant Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), is calling for a total ban on arms sales to the Kingdom. The embargo reportedly includes prohibitions on selling munitions, bombs, missiles, aircraft, tanks or armored vehicles to Riyadh, according to an anonymous source familiar with the text. The bill allegedly does not prohibit the sale of defensive systems, such as missile interceptors.
The measure would also codify the Trump administration’s recent decision to stop refueling Saudi planes engaged in operations in Yemen, as well as to impose sanctions on any party supporting the Houthis within 30 days of the bill’s passage.
“This bill makes clear that Congress demands an immediate cessation of hostilities, urgently calls on all parties to prioritize protection of Yemeni civilians, and makes certain that only a political settlement will end this war,” Menendez said in a statement. “We are putting teeth behind these demands with regular oversight, sanctions, and suspension of weapons sales and refueling support.”
The bill follows the apparent outrage that lawmakers from both parties in the Congress expressed towards Khashoggi’s murder. Many of the senators believe that the operation could not have taken place without permission from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has so far been left unsanctioned.
So far, the only actual actions the US has undertaken are for the invocation of the Global Magnitsky Act – a law that requires Trump to decide within 120 days what individuals are responsible for human rights abuses and what sanctions should be imposed against them.
On November 15th, the US Treasury Department released a list with 17 Saudi citizens who were sanctioned. That is quite possibly the small and least significant action the Trump administration could have taken against its ally, the Kingdom.
President Trump’s move was criticized, since all of the sanctioned people are already imprisoned. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) ridiculed “putting sanctions on people who are in prison” as a weak choice.
“It looks like some shameless coordination with a government that has trampled on the rule of law,” said an anonymous Senate aide familiar with the bill. “It would defy credulity that the announcement came out today when they know what we’re doing here in the Senate . . . they’re willing to designate individuals in the inner circles of Mohammed bin Salman and they won’t say a damn thing about the crown prince himself.”
Several of the new provisions are designed to force Trump into a harder stance against Saudi Arabia. Most significantly, it would require the administration to produce two reports on the Kingdom.
The first of those reports would address the question of where the activities of the Saudi-led coalition, the Houthis and others have risen to the level of war crimes, or otherwise violated international humanitarian law and the laws of war.
The second report would be focused on documenting Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses, focusing on the government’s suppression of women, bloggers and religious freedom.
“This legislation provides the Trump administration leverage it should use to push all parties in Yemen to engage in good faith and urgent negotiations to end the civil war and address the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” Young said in a statement. “Our national security interests and our humanitarian principles demand nothing less.”
Among the original supporters of the legislation are Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who sits on both the Armed Services and Senate Foreign Relations Committees.
However, it is apparent that Saudi Arabia has come out largely unscathed from the entire Khashoggi controversy, with attacks on al-Hudaydah also still on-going in Yemen, according to Houthi speakers.
It would be a massive surprise if this legislation did pass in Congress and forced Trump’s hand, however it is expected to fail.