Congress skirted on sales to Saudis

Pom­peo says Iran ‘emer­gency’ jus­tifies move on $7B in weaponry

The Dallas Morning News - - FRONT PAGE - By MATTHEW LEE and SU­SAN­NAH GE­ORGE

WASHINGTON — The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion in­voked a rarely used pro­vi­sion in fed­eral law on Fri­day to by­pass con­gres­sional re­view of arms sales to Saudi Ara­bia, cit­ing threats the king­dom faces from Iran.

Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo no­ti­fied Congress of the de­ci­sion to use an emer­gency loop­hole in the Arms Ex­port Con­trol Act to move ahead with sales of $7 bil­lion in pre­ci­sion guided mu­ni­tions, other bombs and am­mu­ni­tion and air­craft main­te­nance sup­port to Saudi Ara­bia, along with the United Arab Emi­rates and Jor­dan, without law­mak­ers’ ap­proval.

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.”

Pom­peo’s move fol­lowed Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s an­nounce­ment that the U.S. planned to send 1,500 ad­di­tional U.S. troops to the Mid­dle East as part of a buildup in re­sponse to an un­spec­i­fied threat from Iran.

It comes as the ad­min­is­tra­tion has ac­tively courted close ties with Saudi Ara­bia over con­gres­sional ob­jec­tions, no­tably fol­low­ing the killing of Ja­mal Khashoggi, a U.s.­based colum­nist for The Washington Post, by Saudi agents in Oc­to­ber.

‘Not sur­prised’

Khashoggi’s slay­ing, cou­pled with in­creas­ing con­cerns about civil­ian ca­su­al­ties re­sult­ing from a Saudi­led coali­tion’s mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion against Iran­backed Houthi rebels in Ye­men, prompted law­mak­ers to block about $2 bil­lion in arms sales to the king­dom for more than a year. Last month, Trump ve­toed leg­is­la­tion that would have ended U.S. mil­i­tary as­sis­tance for the Saudi­led war in Ye­men.

Crit­ics of the Saudi cam­paign quickly de­nounced Fri­day’s step.

Sen. 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, that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has failed once again to pri­or­i­tize our long term na­tional se­cu­rity in­ter­ests or stand up for hu­man rights, and in­stead is grant­ing fa­vors to au­thor­i­tar­ian coun­tries like Saudi Ara­bia,” Me­nen­dez said in a state­ment.

Sen. Chris Mur­phy, DConn., who ear­lier this week warned against by­pass­ing Congress, said the ad­min­is­tra­tion was declar­ing an emer­gency only 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. “There is no new ‘emer­gency’ rea­son to sell bombs to the Saudis.”

While most Repub­li­can law­mak­ers have stood by Trump, even al­lies like Sen. Lind­sey Graham of South Carolina have ex­pressed con­cern about the prece­dent the move sets for over­rul­ing Congress. Graham said Thurs­day that the Se­nate has “tools to deal with the ad­min­is­tra­tion,” but he did not in­di­cate what ac­tion he and other law­mak­ers might try to take.

“There’s pretty wide­spread con­cern that now’s not the time to go back to busi­ness as usual with Saudi Ara­bia,” Graham said, adding that he had voiced his con­cerns to Pom­peo.

Dems vow a chal­lenge

The law re­quires Congress to be no­ti­fied of po­ten­tial arms sales, giv­ing the body the op­por­tu­nity to block the sales. But the law also al­lows the pres­i­dent to waive that re­view process by declar­ing an emer­gency that re­quires that 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 clear how they might do that.

“With this move, the pres­i­dent is de­stroy­ing the pro­duc­tive and decades­long 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 U.S. de­fense in­dus­try to ex­port arms in a man­ner that is both ex­pe­di­tious and re­spon­si­ble.”

The chair­man of the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, Repub­li­can 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 Pres­i­dents Ge­orge H.W. Bush and Ge­orge W. Bush used it for sales be­fore the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq war.

2017 File Photo/agence France­presse

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump met with Saudi King Sal­man bin Ab­du­laziz al­saud two years ago in Riyadh. Since then, the killing of jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi by Saudi agents and civil­ian deaths in the Ye­men war have soured some on the king­dom.

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