WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump’s administration on Friday bypassed Congress to sell $8.1 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies, citing a threat from Iran, infuriating lawmakers who fear the weapons could kill civilians in Yemen, reports AFP.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the administration would circumvent the required review by Congress to approve 22 arms transfers to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, saying that the freeze on sales by Congress could affect the Arab allies’ operational abilities.The weapons, which include munitions and aircraft support maintenance, are meant “to deter Iranian aggression and build partner self-defense capacity,” Pompeo said in a statement.
The sale was announced earlier Friday by Senator Robert Menendez, who had used his powers to block shipments of tens of thousands of precision-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, fearing they would contribute to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where the US allies are mounting an offensive.
“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, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.
He said that the administration failed to meet the legal definition of an emergency as he vowed to work with lawmakers to counter the decision. “The lives of millions of people depend on it,” Menendez said.
Another senior Democrat, Senator Dianne Feinstein, said that the United States needed to rein in rather than give more weapons to Saudi Arabia.
“The Saudi-led war in Yemen is not an emergency, it is a crime against humanity,” she said in a statement.Opposition to the arms sale was not limited to Democrats. Congressman Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, termed Trump’s decision “unfortunate,” saying in a statement that the move “will damage certain future congressional interactions.”