Trump team en route to resuming arms sale to Saudi Arabia

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (2ndL) shakes hands as he departs after U.S. President Donald Trump delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress in Washington, U.S., in this February 28, 2017 photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 11 March 2017
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Trump team en route to resuming arms sale to Saudi Arabia

WASHINGTON: After a three-month halt by the Obama administration on a $390 million arms sale to Saudi Arabia, the Trump Cabinet has taken initial decisions to resume the sale after Congress’ approval.
A US State Department spokesperson told Arab News: “As a matter of policy, we don’t comment on proposed arms transfers until they’re formally notified to Congress.”
But there have been no denials by the Trump administration of reports that resuming the arms deal has been approved by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this week.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that “the State Department has approved a resumption of weapons sales to Saudi,” in a reversal of a decision made in December by the Obama administration “to suspend the sale of precision guided munitions to Riyadh” in protest at Arab Coalition actions in Yemen.
The full resumption and delivery of arms will not be immediate, however. Under US law, it would require a final interagency decision to formally present the proposed sales to Congress. After that, there will be a 30-day notification period before moving forward.
Also, Tillerson’s approval would require the “White House backing to go into effect,” the Washington Post reported.
The State Department spokesperson that Arab News spoke to said any decision to resume arms sales does not imply a lack of concern over civilian casualties in Yemen, and the US urges all sides to take additional measures to mitigate against the risk of civilian harm.
The US official added: “More generally, we continue to believe that a political settlement of the Yemen conflict offers the best mechanism for all parties to secure their interests.”
Another US official framed the decision to resume sales around Trump’s counter-Iran efforts. The official told the Washington Post: “We’ll be looking for ways to blunt Iranian malign influence in the region. And we’ll be looking for all the tools that the US government has... I think you have to look at Yemen.”
Hussein Ibish, a resident senior scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington (AGSIW), told Arab News: “The Trump administration’s decision to release the long-scheduled weapons sale to Saudi Arabia isn’t a surprise.”
In terms of policy, Ibish added: “Trump, Tillerson and US Secretary of Defense James Mattis have all signaled a strong interest in maintaining a strong military posture toward Iran, and close cooperation with allies such as Saudi Arabia.”
However, Ibish said: “Even under (Barack) Obama or (Trump’s former campaign rival) Hillary Clinton, the sale would ultimately have gone ahead because of the strong American interest in the outcome in Yemen and maintaining close security ties to Saudi Arabia.”


Philippine president bolsters security, defense ties with Malaysia

Updated 23 min 37 sec ago
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Philippine president bolsters security, defense ties with Malaysia

  • Both Southeast Asian leaders have a dented human rights reputation globally although Mahathir has softened his strongman outlook
  • Piracy and armed robbery against ships remains an ongoing issue for leaders in Southeast Asia as oil and supplies worth billions are lost at sea each year

KUALA LUMPUR: President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad reaffirmed to strengthen bilateral defense cooperation when they met for the first time in Putrajaya on Monday.

The meeting took place at the Malaysian Prime Minister’s office, where both strongmen “renewed and reaffirmed the long-standing brotherhood and friendship between the Philippines and Malaysia.”

“President Duterte likewise renewed the commitment to further strengthen defense and security cooperation at the bilateral and regional level,” according to a statement from Duterte’s office.

The two neighbors have enjoyed a good relationship despite the change of government in Malaysia, as the over-60-year rule by the National Front coalition ended abruptly during Malaysia’s elections on May 9.

Both Southeast Asian leaders have a dented human rights reputation globally, although Mahathir has softened his strongman outlook since he was put in power for the second time in May.

The newly formed government led by the world’s oldest leader, Mahathir Mohamad, has vowed to restore the “rule of law” in Malaysia.

Duterte pointed out in his statement “the need to address terrorism and violent extremism in the region, as well as transnational crime such as piracy and armed robbery at sea and the illegal drug trade.”

Piracy and armed robbery against ships in the region remains an ongoing issue for leaders in Southeast Asia as oil and supplies worth billions are lost at sea each year.

Southeast Asia has become a hotbed for Daesh-inspired terrorist activities and threats, and Duterte and Mahathir reaffirmed the need to boost the security and defense ties of both nations in the Southeast Asia region.

Malaysia’s state of Sabah is facing kidnapping threats from the Mindanao-based Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.

In 2017, a large-scale kidnapping plan in Sabah and Central Philippines was uncovered by military intelligence.

The same year, Marawi was under siege from Daesh-inspired militants. The Philippines declared Marawi “liberated” from terrorism. The aftermath cost 1,000 lives with more than 350,000 people in the city displaced.

Meanwhile, Malaysia played an important role when it became the third-party broker of a long-awaited peace deal between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2014.

“President Duterte expressed appreciation for Malaysia’s sustained support for the quest for the just and lasting peace and development in Mindanao,” his official statement said.

Both leaders stressed the need toward “working closely together bilaterally and at ASEAN” in a region of more than 500 million where “greater stability and security in the region” is of the utmost importance.

The two countries are quietly in a land-lock over an 1878 land lease agreement on Sabah since the Federation of Malaysia was officially formed in 1963. Nevertheless, the Philippines’ long-standing claims over Sabah were off the plate during the bilateral discussion between Duterte and Mahathir.

On Sunday night before the meeting, both strongmen enjoyed watching the fight between Philippines’ world-renowned boxer Manny Pacquiao and Argentina’s fighter Lucas Matthysse.