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Majority of Americans oppose arms sales to Saudi Arabia, poll finds

The majority of younger Americans polled are opposed to arms sales to Israel, while vast majority support continued nuclear negotiations with Iran, according to new survey
Saudi officers walk past F-15 fighter jets, GBU bombs and missiles at King Salman airbase in Riyadh on 25 January 2017.
Saudi officers walk past F-15 fighter jets, GBU bombs and missiles at King Salman airbase in Riyadh on 25 January 2017 (AFP)

A new poll released on Wednesday found a majority of American respondents opposed to the continuation of US arms sales to Saudi Arabia, while the majority of younger Americans also oppose arms sales to Israel.

The fifth annual survey by the Eurasia Group Foundation interviewed 2,002 American adults between 2 and 8 September on the US role in the world and a number of different foreign policy views, from the president's war-making authorities to the strength of Nato and drone warfare.

In a number of categories, the poll found respondents in favour of reining in US military activity and supportive of increased efforts towards diplomacy, even towards American adversaries.

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"For the vast majority of the 21st century, the United States has been involved in conflicts and in far-flung parts of the world. So the question is, is this what the American people want? Does this represent their interests?" Zuri Linetsky, a research fellow at EGF, told Middle East Eye.

"This is very much a test to see where people who take surveys fall down on what American policy is towards the world and what they think their leaders' priorities should be, be they international or domestic."

On the issue of arms sales, the poll found nearly 70 percent of respondents disagree with the continuation of US arms sales to Saudi Arabia, with nearly 35 percent strongly in opposition to such arms sales.

Despite coming into office with a promise of prioritising human rights in foreign policy decisions, the Biden administration has continued to provide arms to countries in the Middle East with questionable rights records, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates.

Biden even temporarily froze some sales that were pushed through in the final hours of the Donald Trump administration, and also announced an end for "offensive support" for the Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen.

But despite rights groups' concerns over the past several years, more arms sales to these countries continue to be approved by the administration.

In August, Biden approved a massive $5bn weapons sale to Saudi Arabia and the UAE for missile defence technology.

Wednesday's poll shows that, on this issue, the administration is at odds with most respondents - a diverse group of Americans across the country from different religions, political affiliations, age groups and income levels.

Split over arms sales to Israel

On the issue of continuing arms sales to Israel, a much closer US ally, the results differed by age group.

A slim majority, 53 percent, of those 18-29 years old polled disagree with the continuation of arms sales to Israel, with 68 percent of respondents over 60 years of age favouring arms sales to Israel.

Israel is the largest recipient of US military aid, receiving an annual $4bn from Washington for military purposes.

'Respondents who were against selling arms to Israel said that it violates human rights through its enduring occupation of Palestine'

- Zuri Linetsky, Eurasia Group Foundation

This aid has largely bipartisan support in the US Congress, however, in recent years several prominent politicians have called for the aid to be restricted due to Israeli rights abuses against Palestinians.

Nevertheless, the aid continues to be approved by a majority of Congress each year.

The EGF's survey appears to match other polling in recent years that more Americans, and particularly younger Americans, are harbouring increasingly critical views of Israel.

A Pew Research poll earlier this year found 61 percent of younger Americans - respondents under 30 years of age - had favourable views of the Palestinian people, whereas 56 percent shared similar views of Israelis.

A month prior to Pew's poll, a survey released by the University of Maryland found fewer than one percent of respondents viewed Israel as one of Washington's top two allies.

"We asked the question about ranking why you would stop selling [arms] and specifically respondents who were against selling arms to Israel said that it violates human rights through its enduring occupation of Palestine. So that resonates with people," said Linetsky.

Massive support for Iran nuclear talks

The EGF's survey, now in its fifth year, also found a vast majority of respondents, 78 percent, were in favour of the US continuing to negotiate with Iran for a return to the 2015 nuclear deal.

The poll found that regardless of the respondents' partisan leanings, Democrat or Republican, most were in favour of negotiations to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

"We found that there are vocal critics on both sides of the political aisle in Congress, against pursuing an agreement with Iran, but those views don't necessarily reflect what we're finding amongst the survey respondents," Lucas Robinson, an external relations associate at EGF, told MEE.

Iran and the US have entered negotiations to return to the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, in which Tehran agreed to limits on its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

In 2018, under the Donald Trump administration, Washington walked away from the deal and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran. The Islamic Republic continued to remain compliant under the deal for a year but then began to reduce its commitments.

Indirect negotiations between the US and Iran have been taking place for a year and a half, but despite arriving close to a finalised deal in recent months, the two sides have been at a stalemate over several remaining sticking points.

A small group of Republicans in Congress have vocalised opposition to returning to the deal, and have even introduced legislation to prevent the lifting of US sanctions on Iran. Several prominent Democrats have also voiced concerns over returning to the deal.

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