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Flouting Human Rights, Trump Pushing New 'Buy American... Weapons' Blitz

The administration is expected to enlist military attaches and diplomats to push American-made weapons to foreign governments, as well as loosening trade restrictions

At a protest at the American Embassy in London last February, a demonstrator held a sign denouncing arms exports from countries including the U.S. and the U.K. to Saudi Arabia, which has waged war in Yemen for nearly three years. (Photo: Alisdare Hickson/Flickr/cc)

Accusing the Trump administration of putting the U.S. economy over global human rights, critics on Monday denounced the White House's plan to loosen restrictions on arms sales and enlist diplomats to help push American-made weapons to foreign governments.

Human rights advocates expressed concern that more weapons sales could fuel further violence around the world.

"As the world's biggest arms exporter, the U.S. has a special responsibility to ensure no U.S. weapons fall into the wrong hands," Patrick Wilcken, an arms control researcher for Amnesty International told Newsweek. "Time and again we have seen U.S. supplied weaponry going astray and ending up in the hands of armed groups, or being supplied to States with poor human rights records which misuse them."

"Arms are not an ordinary commodity and should not be treated as such," added Jeff Abramson, senior fellow at the Arms Control Association.

A senior administration official told Reuters that under the new plan, military and commercial attaches and diplomats will ideally be "unfettered to be salesmen for this stuff, to be promoters."

The U.S. racked up $42 billion in arms sales in 2017. And now the president appears eager to use increased military exports, including fighter jets, drones, and artillery—no matter the consequences around the world.

"This administration has demonstrated from the very beginning that human rights have taken a back seat to economic concerns," Rachel Stohl, director of the conventional defense program at the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan think tank, told Reuters. "And the short-sightedness of a new arms export policy could have serious long-term implications."

The Trump administration has already been criticized by human rights groups as well as U.S. lawmakers for its support of Saudi Arabia's airstrikes against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, which has left the impoverished country reeling from thousands of civilian deaths, a cholera outbreak, and famine.

Last year, the Saudis told Trump they would buy more than $100 billion of arms including $7 billion of precision-guided munitions. The deal drew ire from critics as the weapons have been linked to civilian deaths in Yemen.

"As he did in his first international trip as President, when he announced a notional $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, Trump is couching arms sales in terms of jobs and the economy," Abramson told Newsweek of Trump's latest plan to expand sales. "Much better would be for Trump to promote the portion of U.S. conventional arms transfer policy that includes the goal of 'ensuring that arms transfers do not contribute to human rights violations or violations of international humanitarian law.'

Contrasting with the Trump administration's expected proposal, Norway last week announced it would end all weapons exports to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), part of the Saudi coalition fighting in Yemen, to curb its support of the carnage.

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