The US Senate is warning that Saudi Arabia may share US defense technology with Russia
A senior Democratic senator in the US has expressed concern about the possibility of sensitive US defense technology being shared with Russia by Saudi Arabia as a result of the kingdom's recent decision to side with Moscow over US interests, the Guardian reports.
Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who proposed a one-year freeze on arms sales to Saudi Arabia after OPEC+’s decision to cut oil production, said he would “dig deeper into the risk” in discussions with the Pentagon.
“I want some reassurances that they are on top, and if there are risks, I want to determine what can be done to mitigate those risks immediately,” Blumenthal said in an interview with the Guardian.
The comments show the depth of the rift between the Saudi monarchy and Democrats in Washington, who have reacted furiously to a recent decision by the OPEC oil cartel to begin cutting oil production next month by 2 million barrels a day.
The decision was seen in the US capital as a sign that Riyadh is siding with Russia in its war with Ukraine and as a possible attempt to hurt Joe Biden and the Democrats ahead of critical midterm elections next month by raising the price of petrol.
Both Biden and his Democratic allies in Congress expressed disappointment at the move and called for a realignment of relations with Saudi Arabia, with the US president warning that Saudi Arabia would suffer “consequences” for the move.
On Sunday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said President Biden would proceed “methodically” in reassessing the relationship, but options included changes in security assistance to the major oil producer.
While Republicans on Capitol Hill were far less vocal about the OPEC+ move, Blumenthal said his discussions with colleagues indicated there would be bipartisan support for measures to limit arms sales, an issue likely to be addressed officially next month.
Blumenthal also suggested that one of his main concerns was making sure that Russia did not take advantage of sensitive technology that was shared with American partners in Riyadh.
“We will be consulting with the Pentagon, talking to them very frankly about their already done risk assessment of the technology transfer in advanced weapons systems,” he said. “I’m not jumping to conclusions, but it should be a consideration that is raised.”
The senator also said he supported proposals to transfer weapons currently in Saudi Arabia and on their way to allies in Ukraine.
Some analysts noted that arms transfers to Ukraine would be complicated by the fact that they require American personnel to operate the systems, which would constitute an unsustainable escalation. Blumenthal emphasized that he was not suggesting that US officials train Ukrainian forces in Ukraine, but that it could be done outside the country.
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at the Yale School of Management who has studied arms sales to Saudi Arabia and shared his research with Senate Democrats, said he found the past five years saw an “unparalleled outsourcing” of the most sensitive American arms to the kingdom.
“We have no allies, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Israel, and Australia, with such a unique security partnership as the Saudis, which gives them ownership and local production capabilities of our most sensitive strategic weapons,” he said, adding that the arrangements were started in 2017 under the Trump administration.
“There has been no public discussion of the impact of this troubling arms transfer to the Saudis without American control in the near future,” he said.
Jeff Abramson, a senior fellow at the Arms Control Association, said Saudi Arabia has been a major buyer of US military equipment, including some of its most sophisticated weapons systems, for decades.
“It is possible that the Saudis have information about these weapons that the United States would not want to share with Russia,” he said. “The truth is that the United States supplies weapons to many non-democratic regimes around the world, and the potential sharing of defense information is just one of many concerns about how these relationships could harm, rather than help, national and global peace and security. .”
It is unclear whether the Democrats’ rhetoric will lead to action. Biden entered the White House after promising to treat the Saudi crown prince as a “pariah,” but later traveled to Jeddah.
Asked about the Democrats’ intentions, Blumenthal said: “You know the old saying, ‘The straw that broke the camel’s back?’
“Feelings have reached another point. The Saudis have brought the president to Saudi Arabia to discuss the overall relationship, and we need to rebalance all the diplomatic and military relationships because they have been so one-sided. This action – siding with the Russians in this way – is so dramatic. I think it demands a response,” he said.
“The human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, the promotion of a civil war in Yemen, the disrespect for 9/11 families seeking justice, there’s a parade of insults and injuries here, and now somehow Saudi Arabia has crossed the line,” he added.
On Sunday, Saudi Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman said on Twitter that OPEC+’s decision to cut oil production was made unanimously for “purely” economic reasons.
The statement echoed a stance from last week in which the Saudi foreign ministry rejected criticism of its OPEC+ decision and insisted the cartel had acted unanimously and in its own economic interest. They also dismissed any suggestion that they might be forced to make a U-turn on policy.
The Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment.