The Biden administration is preparing to relax restrictions on some arms sales to Saudi Arabia, U.S. officials said Thursday, crediting the kingdom’s peace talks with a militia in Yemen for accelerating the easing of restrictions.

President Biden imposed the ban two years ago amid concerns that U.S. weapons were being used against civilians in Yemen, where hundreds of thousands of people have died from airstrikes, fighting, disease and starvation as a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia was waging war against Iran. Houthi-backed militia.

The expected easing of limits, which blocked sales of major offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia, comes as the kingdom tries to finalize a US-backed peace deal with the Houthis.

A representative of the White House National Security Council declined to comment.

U.S. officials did not say when the easing of the sales ban might occur. And such a move could be reversed if Biden decides it is not in the United States’ interest to allow offensive weapons to flow to Saudi Arabia, which is by far the largest buyer of American arms.

Just south of Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s Houthi militia has embarked on a ferocious attack that has disrupted global trade, launching missiles and drones at commercial ships in the Red Sea. The group has framed the attacks as a campaign to force Israel to end its siege of Gaza and has pressured the world’s largest shipping companies to divert ships away from Yemen, which sits next to a choke point. key maritime.

Saudi Arabia, after eight years of fighting a devastating war in Yemen, has shown no interest in returning to conflict with the Houthis, particularly as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, seeks to reduce regional tensions. and focus on the kingdom’s economy.

Saudi Arabia and the Houthis are working to cement a peace deal that would formalize a truce in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a coalition partner in the war, had carried out airstrikes using U.S.-made munitions and weapons. Americans. military assistance which led to mass civilian deaths and sparked international condemnation.

A U.N. investigation examining whether the two countries may have committed war crimes found that coalition forces tortured detainees and used child soldiers, among other actions.

In recent weeks, Saudi officials have pressured U.S. lawmakers and presidential aides to relax the ban on sales of offensive weapons, according to U.S. and Saudi officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential conversations. Their reasoning, both sets of officials said: that Saudi Arabia needs to protect its southern border with Yemen in case of future clashes. Additionally, the kingdom has argued that it must be prepared to handle rising tensions in its region, the officials added, as the war between Israel and Gaza progresses.

Biden’s planned policy change is likely to face opposition from some lawmakers. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee imposed its own block on arms sales to Saudi Arabia in October 2022, after the country, along with Russia and other oil-producing nations, agreed to cut its oil production. Representative Gregory W. Meeks, Democrat of New York and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee at the time, also announced a moratorium on anything beyond sales of existing defensive systems, writing online that the ban would remain “until the kingdom changes its position.” regarding Russia and its war in Ukraine.”

The Saudi move created anxiety in the White House ahead of the midterm elections and raised concerns about the country’s relationship with Russia as it waged war against Ukraine.

Before that, Senate committee members had tried to block arms sales because of civilian casualties in Yemen.

“I would oppose any release of advanced weapons as some sort of one-off, separate agreement,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who sits on the Armed Services Committee, said in an interview Thursday. “I understand the demands and challenges that have arisen after October 7,” he added, “but I think there has to be a broader context and framework.”

Other lawmakers have expressed continued reservations, including Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a relentless critic of the war in Yemen that recently tried to block the sale of intelligence and communications technologies to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia’s requests come as threats from militant groups increase. Last month, the Houthis hijack British-owned commercial ship traveling through the Red Sea. This month, a Houthi missile hits Norwegian oil tanker, causing a fire. The Houthis have framed the attacks, which have caused many ships to avoid the Red Sea and instead take a much longer path around the coast of Africa, as a pressure campaign to force Israel to end the war. .

Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria have fired rockets or missiles at bases housing U.S. troops dozens of times this fall.

And Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based militant group, has clashed violently with Israeli forces along their shared border in northern Israel. Hezbollah is an ally of Iran-backed Hamas, the terrorist group that killed about 1,200 people in Israel in October and took more than 200 captive, according to Israeli authorities. Since then, Israeli counterattacks have killed nearly 20,000 Gazans, according to officials in the territory’s Health Ministry.

Early in his administration, Biden, who once referred to Saudi Arabia as a “pariah” nation, expressed concern about the kingdom’s human rights record.

Shortly after his inauguration in 2021, the State Department halted sales of offensive weapons and promised to review military agreements reached during Donald J. Trump’s presidency to ensure they were in line with Biden’s foreign policy goals. . Among the deals that were slowed by the ban was a planned sale of precision-guided munitions worth $478 million.

Biden was also concerned about the death and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Washington Post columnist, at the hands of Saudi agents in 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. US intelligence concluded that Prince Mohammed had approved a plan to kill Khashoggi, who was a US resident. Prince Mohammed has denied the allegation.

Saudi Arabia has for years sought a freer flow of American weapons. Most of its arsenal is American-made, but the kingdom has been diversifying its purchases – as well as trying to develop a domestic defense industry – to protect itself from concerns about a decline in American interest and influence in the region.

And top Biden administration officials have been eager to court the kingdom’s favor over the past year as they tried to reach a deal in which Saudi Arabia would establish diplomatic relations with Israel, discussions that the Gaza war appears to have put on hold.