Skip to main content

World Trump cites Iran to bypass U.S. Congress on Saudi arms sales

President Donald Trump last month vetoed legislation that would have ended U.S. military assistance for the Saudi-led war in Yemen against Iran-backed rebels but administration officials have complained that sales remain blocked.

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

The Trump administration on Friday invoked a rarely used provision in federal law 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 US$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, Mr. 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.”

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Pompeo’s move follows President Donald Trump’s announcement that the United States plans 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 also 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.

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

Critics of the Saudi campaign 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, 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 favours to authoritarian countries like Saudi Arabia,” Mr. Menendez said in a statement.

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

Story continues below advertisement

“President Trump is only using this loophole because he knows Congress would disapprove of this sale,” Mr. Murphy said. “There is no new ‘emergency’ reason to sell bombs to the Saudis.”

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.”

Mr. Menendez and Mr. 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,” Mr. Menendez said. “The possible consequences of this decision will ultimately threaten the ability of the U.S. defence 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.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter