Trump Touts Military Cooperation With Saudi Arabia As Congress Pushes to Halt U.S. Aid Over War in Yemen

President Donald Trump met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in the Oval Office on Tuesday, as he touted the strong relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and plans to sell military equipment to the Kingdom.

"The relationship is probably the strongest it's ever been. We understand each other," Trump said during the meeting. "Saudi Arabia is a very wealthy nation and they are going to give the United States some of that wealth hopefully, in the form of jobs, in the form of the purchase of the finest military equipment in the world.

"As I said before, when it comes to the missiles and the planes and all of the military equipment, there's nobody that even comes close to us in terms of technology and the quality of the equipment. Saudi Arabia appreciates that. They've done tests of everything," Trump continued.

Vice President Pence, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, outgoing White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, the president's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly all attended the meeting.

Over the past year, the Trump administration has enthusiastically lauded its arms sales to Saudi Arabia. A report released by the Security Assistance Monitor earlier this month revealed that more than $80 billion worth of arm sales notifications were sent to Congress in 2017, and around $17.9 billion worth of arms sales went to Saudi Arabia. New regulations on arms sales will likely allow Riyadh to purchase lethal drones from the U.S. with fewer restrictions. Saudi Arabia has pledged to spend $400 billion for U.S. equipment and other items, Trump noted during Tuesday's meeting.

Welcoming Saudi Crown Prince to the Oval Office, Pres Trump has charts showing purchases of US military equipment by Saudi Arabia. Citing one purchase for $525-million, "that's peanuts for you," he tells the Crown Prince.

— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) March 20, 2018

The discussion comes, however, as some members of Congress push for the U.S. to stop sending military supplies to Saudi Arabia because they are being used to wage a brutal war on Yemen.

In a letter to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan issued Tuesday, Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu of California called on the Trump administration to speak to the Crown Prince about the war in Yemen and the human rights situation within Saudi Arabia.

"Three years into this conflict, Yemen remains what the United Nations has called 'the world's worst man-made humanitarian crisis.' Despite recent steps taken by the Saudi military to reduce civilian harm from Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, we continue to see reports of scores of civilian casualties," Lieu wrote in the letter.

"I strongly urge you to press the Crown Prince for his plan to bring about an end to the war in Yemen. I also urge you to request the Crown Prince to work with the international community to investigate fully and fairly all allegations of Saudi coalition airstrikes that struck civilians nowhere near military targets," the letter continued.

Congress is set to vote on whether to withhold U.S. military aid to Saudi Arabia because it is allegedly being used in a protracted conflict in Yemen. Human Rights groups have also called on Trump to pressure the Crown Prince about widespread human rights violations in the Kingdom.

"The American role in the Saudi war on Yemen came before the first bomb was dropped on Yemen. The Obama administration provided direct support to the Saudi planning and bombing of Yemen," Ali al-Ahmed, a Saudi scholar, told Newsweek.

The Saudi-led coalition has been unlawfully bombing markets, hospitals and homes in Yemen with US weapons.

But the US keeps selling weapons to Saudi Arabia and Trump welcomes Saudi crown prince and defense minister Mohammed Bin Salman. #MBS

— Human Rights Watch (@hrw) March 19, 2018

This wasn't the first meeting between the President and the Crown Prince. Trump first hosted the man known colloquially as MBS over a year ago in Washington. But the Saudi Crown Prince didn't hold such a powerful position in his country at that point.

During this visit, the Trump administration has many asks. It wants billions of dollars of Saudi money injected into the U.S. economy for job creation. And the administration also allegedly wants the Saudis to begin winding down the war in Yemen and to end its dispute with its neighbor Qatar, a long-standing U.S. ally that houses a U.S. military base with around 10,000 military personnel.

The relationship between Saudi Arabia and Russia is also a point of contention for U.S. officials more hawkish on Moscow than Trump himself. Officials claim that Moscow is playing both sides of the Iran-Saudi divide in order to weaken the U.S. relationship with Riyadh. Trump, however, has made the U.S.-Saudi relationship one of the pillars of his administration's Middle East strategy.

During Tuesday's meeting with the Crown Prince, who was chosen last year as his father's successor, the president's tone was almost fawning.

"Now you're beyond the Crown Prince. I want to congratulate you. I thought your father made a very wise decision," Trump said.

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