An MQ-9 Reaper, armed with GBU-12 Paveway II laser guided munitions and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, piloted by Col. Lex Turner flies a combat mission over southern Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force Photo / Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt)

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Lawmakers argue Jordan and the UAE can use Reaper drones to help fight ISIS

The Obama administration rebuffed the sale of armed drones beyond close US allies

Washington CNN  — 

A bipartisan group of nearly two dozen House members is urging President Donald Trump to OK sales of high-tech armed drones to Jordan and the United Arab Emirates after the Obama administration nixed the move.

In a letter obtained by CNN, the lawmakers argued that the two Arab countries are allies in the ISIS fight, and also made an economic pitch to Trump: Jordan and the UAE are turning to China instead to buy armed drones.

The purchase of the drones from San Diego-based defense contractor General Atomics would provide $1 billion for the US economy and “preserve thousands of US manufacturing jobs,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter to Trump, which was led by California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter.

The Obama administration opposed the sale of the MQ-9 Reaper, an upgraded version of the iconic US Predator drone, to Jordan, UAE and other Middle Eastern allies. The administration argued the technology should not be shared beyond close allies under the terms of the Missile Technology Control Regime, a 30-year-old agreement that aims to limit the spread of missile technologies as well as drones.

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European allies like Britain and Italy have been sold the MQ-9 Reaper. The UAE was able to acquire the unarmed version of General Atomics’ Predator XP drone, according to Jane’s Defense Weekly, while Jordan has not.

Hunter, whose San Diego district includes General Atomics, pressed the Obama administration to allow Middle East allies to buy the Reaper and Predator drones in a 2015 Wall Street Journal op-ed, calling Jordan a key partner fighting ISIS.

General Atomics declined to comment.

Thursday’s letter was signed by 20 Republicans, mostly on the House Armed Services Committee, and two California Democrats.

The Trump administration has already signaled that it’s open to looser standards when it comes to weapons exports, telling Congress last month it would remove the human rights conditions the Obama administration attached to the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain. The Trump administration has also signaled to Congress it wants to move forward with the sale of fighter jets to Nigeria, according to congressional aides.

The administration has not yet indicated whether it is examining loosening the rules of selling armed drones to Middle Eastern countries. A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.