The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a tense and contentious hearing today regarding Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision to invoke an emergency clause of the Arms Export Control Act to expedite 22 arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan, skirting Congressional approval.
Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Clarke Cooper testified before the committee that this was the fifth time an emergency declaration was invoked since the passing of the Arms Export Control Act in 1976. Cooper relied heavily on those precedents and classified intelligence about threats from Iran in justifying the sale.
“You will stretch every statute beyond its breaking point in order to make Congress irrelevant to the decision-making process,” Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) said.
Cooper said amidst an “uptick of the threat streams” from Iran that the U.S. intended to “send a message of deterrence to Tehran” and “reassure [our partners] that we are with them shoulder-to-shoulder.”
However, several of the Congressmen, from both sides of the political aisle, though more emphatically on the Democratic side, questioned the true nature of the emergency and expressed discontent over the decision to skip the formal 30-day approval window that Congress is typically afforded.
Others took it as an opportunity to question the entirety of the U.S. partnership with Saudia Arabia in light of the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen.
Because some of the sales involve highly-precise munitions, many Congressmen confronted the Assistant Secretary with examples of Saudi bombs being used on hospitals or school buses, fearing that U.S.-made weapons could further fuel the crisis.
“Saudi Arabia has been a longtime security partner region for almost 40 years. It does not and never has precluded us from accountability,” Cooper said. “We are getting commitments from the government that they have acknowledged the room to be a better partner and actually mitigate civilian casualties.”
Cooper added that, unlike when these security partners buy from adversaries like Russia and China, the U.S. arms deals also came with training on targeting and the law of armed conflict.
Both the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee —Congressmen Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Michael McCaul (R-TX) —said they had been working on legislation together “conditioning certain future arms sales with the goal of helping stop civilian deaths,” although specific details were not unveiled.
Congressman Susan Wild brought up concerns about the co-production aspect of the deal, which will allow Raytheon and others to manufacture products in Saudi Arabia, potentially exposing typically close-held technology to the Saudis.
Cooper said none of the technologies “have not already been introduced into the ecosystem so to speak with Saudi Arabia.”
See the hearing video here – https://www.c-span.org/video/?461639-1/assistant-secretary-state-clarke-cooper-testifies-arms-sales-gulf-countries