President Trump invoked a rarely used portion of federal law to push through the $8 billion deal for weapons with Saudi Arabia, and he did it bypassing Congress.
Trump was able to do this 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 in Yemen by Saudi-led forces.
Some Democrats accused the president of bypassing Congress because the sale of weapons – including precision-guided bombs – would have been strongly opposed on Capitol Hill.
Saudi isn’t the only country with a weapons deal, weapons will also reportedly be sold to the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
Members of Congress have heavily criticized Saudi Arabia’s human rights record over its role in the Yemen conflict and for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last October.
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”.
The move quickly was me with opposition. Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, accused Trump of “granting favors to authoritarian countries”.
“[He] has failed once again to prioritize 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.
Senior Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said the US needed to rein in Saudi Arabia rather than hand it more weapons.
“My whole view of Saudi Arabia changed with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” she said.