US President Donald Trump, saying there is a national emergency because of tensions with Iran, is clearing the sale of billions of dollars worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and other countries, US senators said on Friday, despite strong resistance to the plan from both Republicans and Democrats.
The administration has formally informed congressional committees that it will go ahead with 22 arms deals worth some $8bn, congressional aides told Reuters news agency, sweeping aside a long-standing precedent for congressional review of such sales.
Some politicians and congressional aides had warned earlier this week that Trump, frustrated with Congress holding up weapons sales like a major deal to sell Raytheon Co precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, was considering using a loophole in arms control law to go ahead with the sale by declaring a national emergency.
US arms control law allows Congress to reject weapons sales to foreign countries but an exemption in the law allows the president to waive the need for congressional approval by declaring a national security emergency.
“I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the Trump Administration has failed once again to prioritise our long-term national security interests or stand up for human rights, and instead is granting favors to authoritarian countries like Saudi Arabia,” Senator Bob Menendez said in a statement.
Menendez is one of the members of Congress who reviews such sales because he is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
He said that the administration, in explaining its intervention, “described years of malign Iranian behaviour”. But Menendez said the administration failed to meet the legal definition of an emergency and he vowed to work with legislators to counter the decision.
Tensions between Iran and the US mounted this month, a year after Trump pulled the US out of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal.
“The lives of millions of people depend on it,” Menendez said.
The Republican Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Senator Jim Risch, said he had received formal notification of the administration’s intent to move forward with “a number of arms sales”.
In a statement, Risch said, “I am reviewing and analysing the legal justification for this action and the associated implications.”
The White House and State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
‘An end run around Congress’
The Trump administration’s move comes as members of Congress continue to express concern over the president’s handling of the US’s strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia.
Earlier this year, Congress approved a resolution that would have ended US involvement in the Saudi-UAE war in Yemen. Trump vetoed the measure.
Several members of Congress, including many Republicans, have also expressed anger over the murder of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed last year in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
US intelligence agencies have concluded Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killed – a conclusion the kingdom denies.
“Rather than stand up against those who murdered Jamal Khashoggi and are working against US interests, the Trump administration decided to do an end run around the Congress and possibly the law,” Menendez said.
Separately on Friday, Trump said he was deploying 1,500 additional US troops to the region to counter Iran, part of a major US pressure campaign to roll back Tehran’s influence in the Middle East.
With additional reporting by William Roberts in Washington, DC.