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Top Democrat urges US block on weapons sales to Riyadh

#Top #Democrat #urges #block #weapons #sales #Riyadh

A powerful US senator called Monday for Washington to freeze all cooperation with Saudi Arabia over its decision to “underwrite” Russia’s war in Ukraine by slashing oil production.

Riyadh, Moscow and other top oil producers agreed last week to a deep cut in production to boost crude prices, in a move denounced by the United States as a concession to Moscow that would hurt the global economy.

“There simply is no room to play both sides of this conflict — either you support the rest of the free world in trying to stop a war criminal from violently wiping off an entire country off of the map, or you support him,” Bob Menendez, who chairs the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia chose the latter in a terrible decision driven by economic self-interest.” 

The 13-nation, Saudi-led OPEC cartel and its 10 allies headed by Russia agreed to reduce output by two million barrels a day from November —  raising fears that oil prices could soar.

Saudi Arabia said OPEC’s priority was “to maintain a sustainable oil market” but its move drew a swift rebuke from the Washington, which is leading efforts to isolate major energy producer Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

“The United States must immediately freeze all aspects of our cooperation with Saudi Arabia, including any arms sales and security cooperation beyond what is absolutely necessary to defend US personnel and interests,” Menendez said.

“As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I will not green-light any cooperation with Riyadh until the kingdom reassesses its position with respect to the war in Ukraine. Enough is enough.”

An outspoken critic of Riyadh, Menendez has been at the forefront of the campaign to sanction Saudi royalty over the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, which US intelligence concluded was ordered by de facto leader Mohammed bin Salman.

He is the latest in a string of lawmakers calling for a rethink on the US-Saudi relationship but is able to wield considerably more influence than most in his drive to impose increased scrutiny on arms sales.

When former president Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration to bypass Congress in approving a weapons deal with Riyadh in 2019, Menendez jammed up the process by refusing to acknowledge the White House’s notification of the sale until he had received answers about his concerns about use of US-made weaponry in Yemen.

“I am horrified by Russia’s depraved and desperate escalation against civilian infrastructure across Ukraine — including in Kyiv,” he said.

“I pledge to use all means at my disposal to accelerate support for the people of Ukraine and to starve Russia’s war machine.” 

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