Trump Admin Sidesteps Congress to Sell Arms to Middle East Allies

May 25, 2019 Updated: May 25, 2019

WASHINGTON—The State Department announced May 24 that the United States is planning to sell $8.1 billion worth of arms to Middle East allies to counter aggression by Iran.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the United States has pending 22 arms sales to Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Saudi Arabia.

The sales include intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); aircraft support maintenance; munitions; and other supplies.

“Today’s action will quickly augment our partners’ capacity to provide for their own self-defense and reinforce recent changes to U.S. posture in the region to deter Iran,” Pompeo said. “Delaying this shipment could cause degraded systems and a lack of necessary parts and maintenance that could create severe airworthiness and interoperability concerns for our key partners, during a time of increasing regional volatility.”

The State Department is doing this without the blessing of Congress, which, under normal circumstances, would have 30 days to vote on whether the sales could proceed.

Instead, the State Department is using section 36 of the Arms Export Control Act (pdf), which allows the administration to waive the 30-day period if the president determines that emergency circumstances threaten the “national security interests of the United States.”

“This isn’t going around Congress. The authority that the president used today was granted to us by Congress. It passed the law, it would have been signed by a previous president and provided us specific authority to conduct arms sales in precisely the manner in which we’re doing,” Pompeo told Breitbart News.

On May 12, four oil tankers were attacked near a UAE port in the Gulf of Oman, two of which were owned by Saudi Arabia. On May 19, a rocket fired in Baghdad landed close to the U.S. Embassy.

Rear Admiral Michael Gilday, the director of the Joint Staff, said on May 24 that Iran and its proxy groups were responsible for both attacks, and that there is credible intelligence Iran and its proxies intend to “attack U.S. personnel in the Middle East.”

“We believe with a high degree of confidence that this stems back to the leadership of Iran at the highest levels and that all of the attacks that I mentioned have been attributed to Iran through their proxies or their forces,” he said.

The same day, President Donald Trump told reporters as he was leaving for Japan that the United States would be sending 1,500 troops to the Middle East.

“We want to have protection,” he said.

The Department of Defense said the troops were defensive in nature and not intended to provoke a conflict.

U.S. Actions Toward Iran

This follows the United States declaring Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization in April and sanctioning its oil exports, which has forced Iran to decrease payments to its proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria. With waivers to several countries on Iran oil sanctions ended on May 2, the effect on the Iranian regime’s bottom line is likely to increase.

The United States has also deployed an aircraft carrier strike group as well as bombers and additional Patriot missiles to the Middle East.

Iran has not been quiet about its opposition to the moves, with one Iranian military official saying Iran could sink U.S. warships in the Gulf, while another said it was unlikely for a war to start in the region.

“America … is sending two warships to the region. If they commit the slightest stupidity, we will send these ships to the bottom of the sea along with their crew and planes using two missiles or two new secret weapons,” General Morteza Qorbani, an adviser to Iran‘s military command, told the Mizan news agency.

While tensions have been high between the United States and Iran since the Trump administration pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran nuclear deal, Trump has said he is open to dialogue.

“What they should be doing is calling me up, sitting down; we can make a deal, a fair deal,” he said May 11. “We just don’t want them to have nuclear weapons. Not too much to ask. And we would help put them back into great shape.”

Pompeo has said that the United States “maximum pressure” campaign is meant to encourage Iran to become a “normal country” that “does not spread terror throughout the world.”

“I made clear that the United States will continue to apply pressure to the regime in Tehran until its leadership is prepared to return to the ranks of responsible nations that do not threaten their neighbors or spread instability or terror,” he said May 14 in a press conference with Russia’s foreign minister.

Reuters contributed to the report.

Follow Holly on Twitter: @HollyGailK
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