Trump cites Iran threat to bypass Congress on massive arms sales to Saudis, UAE

Citing a threat from Iran, the Trump administration has notified Congress it will bypass a required review to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. (AP)

US President Donald Trump, saying there is a national emergency because of tensions with Iran, swept aside objections from Congress and cleared the sale of $8 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

The Trump administration informed congressional committees on Friday that it will go ahead with 22 military sales to the Saudis, United Arab Emirates and Jordan, infuriating lawmakers by circumventing a long-standing precedent for congressional review of such sales.

In documents sent to Congress and seen by Reuters, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listed a wide range of products and services that would be provided to the three countries.

They include Raytheon precision-guided munitions (PGMs), support for Boeing Co F-15 aircraft, and Javelin anti-tank missiles, which are made by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin Corp.

In his memorandum to Congress justifying the sale, Pompeo listed years of actions by Iran. “Iranian malign activity poses a fundamental threat to the stability of the Middle East and to American security at home and abroad,” he wrote, and cited “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Tehran.

Congressional sources said Friday’s order included all the defense equipment that members of Congress had been blocking.

Pompeo notified Congress of the decision to use an emergency loophole in the Arms Export Control Act to move ahead with sales of precision guided munitions, other bombs and ammunition and aircraft maintenance support to Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

In his notification, Pompeo said he had made the determination “that an emergency exists which requires the immediate sale” of the weapons “in order to deter further the malign influence of the government of Iran throughout the Middle East region.”

He said the transfers “must occur as quickly as possible in order to deter further Iranian adventurism in the Gulf and throughout the Middle East.”

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Pompeo’s move follows President Donald Trump’s announcement that the US plans to send 1,500 additional US troops to the Middle East as part of a build-up in response to an unspecified threat from Iran.

US lawmakers had blocked about $2 billion in arms sales to the kingdom for more than a year. Last month, Trump vetoed legislation that would have ended US military assistance for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

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Critics quickly denounced Friday’s step.

Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the administration did not cite a specific legal or practical reason for using the loophole other than Iran.

“I am disappointed, but not surprised,” Menendez said in a statement.

Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat- Connecticut, who earlier this week warned against bypassing Congress, said the administration was only declaring an emergency because lawmakers would have blocked the transfers.

“President Trump is only using this loophole because he knows Congress would disapprove of this sale,” Murphy said.

The law requires Congress to be notified of potential arms sales, giving the body the opportunity to block the sale. But the law also allows the president to waive that review process by declaring an emergency that requires the sale be made “in the national security interests of the United States.”

Menendez and Murphy said they would challenge the decision but it was not immediately clear how they might do that.

“With this move, the president is destroying the productive and decades-long working relationship on arms sales between the Congress and the executive branch,” Menendez said. “The possible consequences of this decision will ultimately threaten the ability of the US defense industry to export arms in a manner that is both expeditious and responsible.”

The chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, said he was “reviewing and analyzing the legal justification for this action and the associated implications.”

There is precedent for using the emergency exemption for arms sales to Saudi Arabia. President Ronald Reagan invoked it in the 1980s and both Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush used it for sales before the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq war.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:55 - GMT 06:55
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