Monday, 25 May 2020

More non-Covid stories

Egypt released violent criminals in an Eid amnesty but kept political prisoners locked up.

Iran gives petroleum products and refinery know-how to Venezuela. One can see why Venezuela is desperate to bring down petrol prices and get its own refinery in working order again, but one wonders what is in the deal for Iran, other than annoying the Americans. The transaction has achieved one thing: the US threats to block the shipments have proved hollow, as one tanker is about to unload and four more are crossing the Atlantic unhindered. Of course, all this cloak-and-dagger stuff could be done away with and the Venezuelan economy restored, if only Maduro were to recognise the democratic choice of his people and yield power to the opposition.

Trump's unauthorised arms sales: probably the most significant story of last week. New York Times and Defense News reported that the inspector-general in the State Department fired by President Trump had been investigating the Trump administration’s use of an emergency declaration to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UAE. In May of last year, a key Senate committee had

held up the sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, over concerns of how they will be used as part of the Saudi-led actions against Iranian-backed fighters in Yemen, an operation that has led to a humanitarian crisis in that country.

Now, the administration is pushing through those weapons, as well as a mix of unmanned aerial vehicles and aircraft maintenance, using an obscure exemption to circumvent Congress’ ability to say no to foreign weapon deals.

The Arms Export Control Act contains an exemption to sell weapons to partners in case of an emergency, something designed to speed up the process amid a crisis. In this case, Trump appears to be using the tense situation with Iran — based on intelligence reports that have been widely questioned by Democrats, but supported by the Pentagon — as a reason to push through the weapons.
[Senators] Menendez and Murphy hinted at introducing legislation to make sure Trump cannot use the emergency procedure for future sales, but gave no details on how that might work. And in his statement, Menendez specifically warned that U.S. industry may regret Trump’s latest move “With this move, the President is destroying the productive and decades-long working relationship on arms sales between the Congress and the Executive Branch. The possible consequences of this decision will ultimately threaten the ability of the U.S. defense industry to export arms in a manner that is both expeditious and responsible,” according to Menendez. 

Of immediate concern to us on this side of the Atlantic is not only the probable use of these weapons against civilians in Yemen, but also their being passed on to the rebel Haftar in Libya. Currently, the internationally-recognised official government is repelling the insurgency but an injection of more sophisticated weaponry might reverse the situation. Where Saudi- and UAE-backed forces succeed, Daesh follows.

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