Capitol Hill has criticised Riyadh's involvement in the Yemen war, which is considered one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters leading US lawmakers to block military sales to the kingdom.

Despite the US and Saudi Arabia being close allies, American lawmakers have criticised the Kingdom's involvement in the Yemen war where Riyadh is fighting against the Iran backed Houthi rebels.
Despite the US and Saudi Arabia being close allies, American lawmakers have criticised the Kingdom's involvement in the Yemen war where Riyadh is fighting against the Iran backed Houthi rebels. (Reuters)

The US State Department has approved its first major arms sale to Saudi Arabia under President Joe Biden, valued at up to $650 million.

The deal agreed to sell 280 Raytheon air-to-air missiles, the Pentagon announced on Thursday.

The Department of Defense notified US Congress of the sale, and if it gets the all clear, would finalise the first arms trade deal under Biden's administration to the Gulf kingdom.

READ MORE: US pulls missile defences in Saudi Arabia despite attacks from Yemen

While Saudi Arabia is an important partner in the Middle East, US lawmakers have previously criticized Riyadh for its involvement in the war in Yemen, a conflict considered one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters. Multiple military sales to the kingdom were not approved until assurances were provided that US equipment would not be used to kill civilians.

The State Department had approved the sale on October 26, a spokesperson said, adding that the air-to-air missile sale comes after "an increase in cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia over the past year."

Clash of outcome

The sale "is fully consistent with the administration's pledge to lead with diplomacy to end the conflict in Yemen," the State Department spokesperson said in a statement. The air-to-air missiles ensure "Saudi Arabia has the means to defend itself from Iranian-backed Houthi air attacks," he said.

READ MORE: Yemen crisis is worsening and the world must act now, say aid workers

The State Department spokesperson stressed that the missiles cannot be used against ground targets.

Despite approval by the State Department, the announcement did not confirm whether a contract had been signed or negotiations had been concluded.

Following the Trump administration's friendly relationship with Riyadh, the Biden administration recalculated its approach to Saudi Arabia, a country with which it has severe human rights concerns but which is also one of Washington's closest US allies in countering the threat posed by Iran.

The deal, if approved by the US Congress, would include 280 Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM), 596 Missile Rail Launchers (MRL) along with containers, and support equipment, spare parts, as well as US government and contractor engineering and technical support.

READ MORE: UNICEF: More than 10,000 children killed or injured in Yemen since 2015

Source: TRTWorld and agencies