Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) wrote a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday informing the top diplomat that future weapons sales to Persian Gulf coast countries would face more restrictions.
The missive arrived at the Secretary’s desk as the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) is dealing with a diplomatic crisis. Several of the council’s members, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, are posturing for conflict with fellow council member Qatar, over alleged support of terrorist groups.
“Before we provide any further clearances during the informal review period on sales of lethal military equipment to the GCC states, we need a better understanding of the path to resolve the current dispute and reunify the GCC,” Corker said in his letter. He also said that the GCC “chose to devolve into conflict.”
Last week, Saudi Arabia gave Qatar 10 days to comply with a list of demands. It included Qatar shutting down news broadcaster Al-Jazeera, severing ties with the Muslim Brotherhood political party, and distancing itself from Iran.
The Trump administration has presented contradictory responses to the burgeoning diplomatic dust-up. President Trump attempted to take credit for Gulf coast nations taking a more aggressive posture toward Qatar. Secretary Tillerson, meanwhile, called for a ratcheting down of hostilities, and has urged Saudi Arabia to show restraint.
As the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Corker could put a check on the administration’s arms sales. The State Department must notify Capitol Hill of most foreign weapons deals of more than $1 million at least 30 days before export. During that review period, lawmakers could pass a resolution blocking the sale.
Although Corker tipped his hand on future arms sales, he has recently denied an opportunity to block prior military exports.
Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tried last week to derail a $500 million weapons deal with Saudi Arabia over the Gulf monarchy’s brutal bombing campaign in Yemen, where thousands of civilians have been killed. Riyadh stands accused of committing war crimes by indiscriminately targeting women and children in their aerial assaults.
The resolution failed, however, in 47-53 vote that saw five Democrats siding with mostly Republicans to defeat the measure, allowing the arms sales to go through. Sen. Corker was among those who voted down the resolution — unmoved by allegations of Saudi war crimes.
“There is no classified intelligence that shows they have ever intentionally bombed civilians — as a matter of fact, intelligence down there shows that they didn’t,” Corker said before the vote. He said that preventing the deal from going through would be akin to “cutting your nose off to spite your face.”