U.S. Senate rejects Saudi arms sales in rebuke to Trump

By Patricia Zengerle | Thu, June 20, 2019 12:44 EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Thursday backed two resolutions opposing President Donald Trump's plan to complete weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and other countries, in a rare rebuke of the White House by some of his fellow Republicans in Congress.

The vote was 53-45 for the first of 22 resolutions of disapproval the Senate was to consider related to Trump's decision last month to sidestep the congressional review process and complete more than $8 billion in military deals with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries.

A second resolution passed by the same 53-45 vote.

A handful of Republicans voted with Democrats to support the resolutions, as Congress pushes the Trump administration to react more strongly to what lawmakers see as human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had urged a no vote. He noted tensions with Iran and argued that it is important for Washington to stay close to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

"Let's not cut ourselves off from our partners," McConnell said. "Let's not undercut the administration at a time of such delicate diplomacy."

Hours before the vote, Iran shot down a U.S. military drone, escalating fears of wider military conflict. Washington said the incident was an "unprovoked attack" in international air space while Tehran said the drone was over its territory.

Trump said Iran's action was "a very big mistake" and when asked by reporters how he would respond, said, "You'll find out."

Congress has been increasingly frustrated with Saudi Arabia because of the devastating human toll of the air campaign in Yemen it is waging with the UAE. Many senators also want Saudi Arabia held accountable for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Bill Trott)

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