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US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman take part in a signing ceremony at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh in May 2017. Photo: AFP

Defying Congress, Donald Trump okays US$8 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE

  • Citing national emergency over tensions with Iran, administration will go ahead with 22 arms deals
  • Sales come after Trump vetoed move by Congress to stop US support for Saudi-led war in Yemen
Middle East

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 and other countries, US senators said on Friday, despite strong resistance to the plan from both Republicans and Democrats.

The administration has informed congressional committees that it will go ahead with 22 arms deals worth some US$8 billion, congressional aides said, sweeping aside a long-standing precedent for congressional review of such sales.

The Raytheon offices in Woburn, Massachusetts; a major sale of the company’s heat-seeking missiles may now go ahead. Photo: Reuters

Some lawmakers and congressional aides had warned earlier this week that Trump, frustrated with Congress holding up weapons sales like a major deal to sell Raytheon precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, was considering using a loophole in arms control law to proceed with the sale by declaring a national 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 favours to authoritarian countries like Saudi Arabia,” Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, said in a statement.

Saudi calls urgent GCC and Arab League meetings as tensions rise

“The possible consequences of this decision will ultimately threaten the ability of the US defence industry to export arms in a manner that is both expeditious and responsible,” he said.

Menendez is one of the members of Congress who review such sales because he is the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Senator Jim Risch, Republican of Idaho, said he had received formal notification of the administration’s intent to move forward with “a number of arms sales”.

US Senator Bob Menendez speaks during a news conference in April 2013, Photo: AFP

The sales come after Trump vetoed a move by Congress to stop US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, where tens of thousands have died and millions are said to risk starvation in what the United Nations calls the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has resolutely defended the US support for the Saudis, noting that the Houthi rebels who control much of Yemen are allied with US adversary Iran and saying that Houthi rocket attacks into Saudi Arabia could kill Americans taking commercial flights.

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.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse