Yemen is involved in a civil war that pitted a coalition supported by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – two key allies of the United States – against the Houthi rebels supported by Iran, and the presence of weapons of American manufacturing has only fueled the fighting.

Two US officials familiar with the State Department and Pentagon investigation told CNN that it had taken more than a year to complete due to what a source described as UAE delay tactics .

Under the veil of secrecy, American weapons arrive in Yemen despite the indignation of Congress

Although the investigation ended earlier this year, its findings have not been released to the public. But several government officials on both sides of the aisle and within the administration told CNN that the United Arab Emirates has now been laundered.

The State Department told certain congressional leaders that it was “convinced that no real transfer had been made” and “ensured that the United Arab Emirates fully appreciated the letter of their agreements” with the Another U.S. source told CNN about the investigation.

With this assurance, lawmakers have given their blessing to a new plan to sell US military equipment to the UAE, the source said.

On May 7, the United States Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced that the Pentagon has approved the proposed sale of the 4,569 surplus mine-action vehicles (MRAP) manufactured in the United States to the United Arab Emirates for a cost estimated at $ 556 million. The sale would serve the US national interest by helping support the security of “an important regional partner,” according to the DSCA press release.
But a lack of transparency on the findings of the American investigation has raised questions about the merits of the Trump administration’s decision to approve the proposed sale of MRAP to the United Arab Emirates, given the evidence of transfers unauthorized past and bipartisan congressional opposition to several arms sales projects. Last year. It also stems from the fact that Pompeo was accused of pressuring the authorities to find ways to justify arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

In a statement to CNN last week, the United Arab Emirates would not confirm or deny if it had been authorized, but said that “the military has confirmed to the United States government that it will continue to abide by the terms and conditions” of the sales. of weapons.

An American-made MRAP in the hands of the Militia of the Giants Brigade in Yemen in February 2019.

The Pentagon said it could not comment on the investigation or subsequent conversations with Congress, and directed CNN to the State Department for further comments.

The State Department confirmed to CNN that its investigation was complete. “We believe that the UAE now has a better understanding of its EUM (End User Monitoring) obligations,” said an official, without providing further details.

But some U.S. government officials have told CNN they are concerned that the United Arab Emirates has been cleared of their wrongdoings and that this controversial decision was made as Congress focused on the current coronavirus crisis . Two administration officials were willing to be named, but asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.

“Listen, the problem of arms sales is really essential for Trump personally and it has been a real point of contention with Congress, even the Republicans have pushed back,” said a senior official familiar with the matter. “The Emirates are a key ally and we believe this sale is in the American national interest. It seemed like the right time to get things done.”

A second senior official familiar with the agreement was much more concerned with the approval of potential sales of MRAP at present.

“We had real problems getting their cooperation [the Emirates] about our investigation, “the official told CNN.” Their feeling was that they didn’t think they had done something wrong, which augurs nothing good for future compliance, but the message we got from above was that Trump wanted this done and is now the good time to get through. “

The National Security Council did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

Fear that the sale would jeopardize American national security

Congress and the Trump administration disagree on the issue of arms sales in the United States, with a rare bipartisan unit demonstrated in efforts to curb the White House.
Elizabeth Warren and Chris Murphy, two Democratic senators who led the campaign to stop arms sales to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, criticized the May 7 decision and called on the administration to release the findings of its investigation.
The announcement was made just days before State Department Inspector General Steve Linick was sacked by President Donald Trump on the recommendation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Allegations were later made that Pompeo had refused to cooperate with the Inspector General, who was investigating the administration’s attempt last year to speed up arms sales to Arabia Saudi. Pompeo defended its efforts to fire Linick on Wednesday – saying it “should have done it some time ago” – but declined to explain its reasoning. It was not clear whether the Inspector General’s investigation prompted Pompeo to recommend his dismissal.
In May 2019, the Trump administration declared an emergency to bypass Congress and speed up $ 8.1 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and others country, citing the need to deter what it called Iran’s “malicious influence” across the Middle East.
Four sources told CNN this week that Pompeo had pushed State Department officials to find a way to justify the emergency declaration it had already decided to implement to speed up arms sales, superb career diplomats.
Pompeo has ordered officials to find a way to justify the Saudi arms sale being investigated by a licensed watchdog
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle gathered last summer to pass a trio of congressional resolutions blocking sales, but Trump ultimately vetoed those resolutions.

The proposal approved on May 7 is the next phase of a $ 2.5 billion arms deal reached with the United Arab Emirates in 2014. The deal was suspended last year pending the outcome of the American investigation.

An assistant to Representative Michael McCaul, the Republican chief of the House foreign affairs committee, said the State Department had informed its committee of the investigation.

“The State Department has repeatedly informed the foreign affairs commission staff of their investigation into the unauthorized transfer of MRAP sold to the UAE in 2014, which ended earlier this year,” said Leslie Shedd in a statement.

Shedd added that McCaul and other senior officials from the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had previously reviewed and approved the proposed sale. Shedd referred CNN to the State Department when asked if the investigation had cleared the UAE of wrongdoing.

Senator James Risch, Republican chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, declined to comment and referred questions to the State Department. Representative Eliot Engel, Democratic Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

Warren criticized the State Department for not making the results of the investigation public in a letter sent last week to Pompeo and to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

Elizabeth Warren condemns US arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates after CNN report

“To my knowledge, there have been no unclassified publications or transmissions of any kind to Congress of the results of your visits to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to remedy the misappropriation of American military equipment that we have sold to these governments and to corrective action, if any, taken to address these allegations, “said the senator in a May 14 letter seen by CNN.

“If the investigation by your department into the misappropriation of the same category of United States military equipment by American allies has not been completed or has been completed without any action being taken to prevent such hijackings in the future , so I fear that the continued sale of this equipment will jeopardize the national security of the United States. “

Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticized the proposed sale and called on Congress to block it.

“Congress should not authorize a new arms sale to the United Arab Emirates until the administration releases its report on the likely serious breaches by the Emiratis of previous arms deals. We cannot not allow our allies to take the weapons we sell them and pass them on to dangerous militia extremists, as the Emiratis did. There should be responsibility for violations [an] arms deal, and that arms sale sends the opposite message, “Murphy told CNN.

“Insufficient answers”

Several US officials confirmed to CNN that the United Arab Emirates is under investigation under section 3 of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA), which prohibits the transfer of American arms to third parties without prior authorization.

CNN revealed in February that the Emiratis had delivered American-made MRAPs to an ultra-conservative militia in Yemen called the Giant Brigades.

At the time, an UAE official told CNN that the Giants Brigades were “part of the Yemeni forces” and were under the direct supervision of the United Arab Emirates, and that the equipment was therefore “in collective possession” of the coalition.

U.S. sends investigators to United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to investigate findings of CNN weapons violations

But under the arms sales agreements between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia with the United States, MRAPs manufactured in the United States are considered “proprietary technology”, which neither party is supposed to let out of his control. Recipients of U.S. weapons are legally required to comply with end-use requirements that prohibit the transfer of any equipment to other parties without prior authorization. This authorization was never obtained.

The US Department of Defense, when asked specifically about the Giant Brigades last year, said it had not authorized the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia to hand over American weapons to other factions on the ground.
In a letter obtained by CNN in November, the State Department admitted that the “persistent insufficient responses” from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia had delayed the investigation.

The letter, from the State Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs, indicates that a joint state-pentagon visit was made to the United Arab Emirates in September to verify what happened to the MRAPs supplied by the United States.

The letter added that another similar “monitoring visit” to Saudi Arabia was scheduled for November, after which “the Department expects to have a full account of the circumstances related to the disposal of this equipment and any potential violations agreements “.

Saudi authorities, when asked if they were approved the same way, did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

Mike Pompeo (R) pictured with United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed in 2018.

UAE withdraws troops, maintains influence

CNN revealed in October that American MRAPs had once again been distributed – in violation of weapons agreements – to militias in Yemen, including the Giants’ Brigades. The militia had taken up the separatist cause and used this equipment in the fight against government forces, which had also been equipped with American weapons by Saudi Arabia. Add a new layer of chaos to an already fracturing conflict.

After five years of involvement in Yemen, the United Arab Emirates announced last July that they would gradually withdraw all their troops from the country, shifting its strategy of involving boots on the ground to an ever-increasing use of its agents local.

In its latest statement, the Emirates told CNN they “have largely withdrawn from Yemen and are focusing on counterterrorism efforts against AQAP, ISIS and other dangerous groups”.

But the UAE has maintained operational control of several militias or non-state actors, including the Southern Transitional Council (STC), a secessionist group based in the southern port city of Aden that has often fueled a war in the war between different coalition factions supported by the Gulf.

Saudi Arabia declares ceasefire in Yemen on coronavirus

Allied groups have repeatedly turned their weapons against each other, undermining their broader mission to dislodge the Houthi militia that controls the capital, Sanaa, and much of northern Yemen.

There were signs of hope last November when, as the UAE army was about to complete its withdrawal, the STC signed an agreement with the government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, backed by Arabia and internationally recognized. The Riyadh Pact gave the STC the legitimacy it dreamed of and guaranteed the United Arab Emirates a position in the conflict even after the last Emirati soldier left Yemeni soil.

But the political maneuvers once again put the lives of ordinary Yemenis at risk.

On April 25, the STC turned its back on the Riyadh agreement and announced that it would establish autonomy in the areas under its control.

The move sparked a new outbreak of violence in Yemen which coincided with an increase in Covid-19 infections. The UN has warned that the virus could spread quickly in a country where the health system is fragile and millions of people are on the brink of starvation.

About 80% of the population is already in need of humanitarian assistance or protection, according to the World Health Organization, which said that 197 cases and 33 deaths linked to coronaviruses had been confirmed Friday in Yemen.

CNN’s Barbara Arvanitidis, Ryan Browne and Sarah Sirgany contributed to this report.

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