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US senator's bill seeks 'review' of Saudi ties over Riyadh's rights abuses

Chairman Jim Risch has introduced new legislation on Saudi Arabia [Getty]

Date of publication: 10 July, 2019

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US Republican Senator Jim Risch has introduced new legislation calling for a 'comprehensive review' of Washington's relationship with Saudi Arabia over Riyadh's rights abuses.
The Republican chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee will send new legislation to Congress aimed at pushing back against Saudi Arabia's rights violations.

Senator Jim Risch, whose bill does not address weapon sales, said he wanted to introduce legislation that President Donald Trump would sign. 

The Republican-led Senate voted last month to prevent $8.1 billion in US arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies, as legislators outraged with the kingdom delivered a rebuke to US President Donald Trump.

But Trump has promised to veto measures taken by the Senate, in which a handful of Republicans joined Democrats in voting against 22 separate sales of aircraft support maintenance, precision-guided munitions and other weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

Risch's bill calls for a "comprehensive review" of Washington's relationship with Saudi Arabia, Reuters reported. 

The bill also calls on Trump to deny visas to Saudi citizens tied to rights abuses, allowing waivers in cases of national interest.

It is the latest effort by lawmakers to draw attention to Saudi Arabia's human rights violations. The kingdom and its crown prince, Mohamed bin Salman, have faced heightened criticism since the murder of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi hit team. 

Saudi Arabia's involvement in Yemen, where it leads a coalition against Iran-backed Houthi rebels, has also come under fire.

Trump's administration took the extraordinary step of bypassing Congress to approve the sales in May, declaring Iran to be a "fundamental threat" to regional stability.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said the administration was responding to an emergency caused by Saudi Arabia's historic rival Iran, which backs the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

But critics in the US and Britain have expressed concern about the devastating toll that the four-year Saudi bombing campaign in neighbouring Yemen has taken on civilians.

"When they target civilians how can we continue to sell those arms?" said author of past resolutions, Democratic Senator Robert Menendez.

The conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives and triggered what the United Nations describes as the world's worst existing humanitarian crisis.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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