Defying Congress, Trump sets $8 billion-plus in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE

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International desk, May 25: U.S. President Donald Trump, declaring a national emergency because of tensions with Iran, swept aside objections from Congress on Friday to complete the sale of over $8 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.Mr Trump invoked a rarely used aspect of federal law to push through the $8bn (£6bn) deal, which would ordinarily need to be approved by Congress.

He did so by declaring that ongoing tensions with Iran amounted to a national emergency.

The move has angered those who fear the weapons may be used against civilians.

Some Democrats have also accused the president of bypassing Congress because the sale of weapons, including precision-guided munitions and other forms of bombs, would have been strongly opposed on Capitol Hill.

Weapons will also reportedly be sold to the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

The Trump administration informed congressional committees 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 major weapons sales.

Members of Congress had been blocking sales of offensive military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for months, angry about the huge civilian toll from their air campaign in Yemen, as well as human rights abuses such as the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

Lawmakers and congressional aides warned earlier this week that Trump, frustrated with Congress holding up weapons deals including the sale of bombs to Saudi Arabia, was considering using a loophole in arms control law to go ahead by declaring a national emergency.

“President Trump is only using this loophole because he knows Congress would disapprove … There is no new ‘emergency’ reason to sell bombs to the Saudis to drop in Yemen, and doing so only perpetuates the humanitarian crisis there,” said Senator Chris Murphy.

Murphy, a Democrat, made public on Twitter on Wednesday that Trump was considering the loophole in the Arms Control Export Act to clear the sales.

On Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified Congress of the administration’s decision to make the sale. In a letter, widely reported in US media, he said that “Iranian malign activity” required the “immediate sale” of weapons.

“[Iran’s] activity poses a fundamental threat to the stability of the Middle East and to American security at home and abroad,” he wrote.

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”.

But the move quickly garnered opposition. Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, accused Mr Trump of “granting favours to authoritarian countries”.

“[He] has failed once again to prioritise our long term national security interests or stand up for human rights,” he said in a statement.

Republican Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Senator Jim Risch, said he had been informed by the Trump administration that it planned to confirm “a number of arms sales”.

“I am reviewing and analysing the legal justification for this action,” he said.

News of the Trump administration’s decision came shortly after it announced it would bolster the US military presence in the Middle East. An additional 1,500 troops, as well as fighter jets and drones, will be deployed to the region in the near future.

Patrick Shanahan, the acting Defence Secretary, says the move was intended to counter “ongoing threats posed by Iranian forces, including the IRGC [Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps] and its proxies”.

Tensions between the US and Iran began rising this month when Washington ended exemptions from sanctions for countries still buying from Iran. The decision was intended to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero, denying the government its main source of revenue.

Mr Trump reinstated the sanctions last year after abandoning the landmark nuclear deal that Iran has signed with six nations – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.

Iran has now announced it it will suspend several commitments under the deal.

Source: News Agencies