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House Blocks Sale of Weapons to Saudi  07/18 06:41

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congress is heading for a showdown with President Donald 
Trump after the House voted on Wednesday to block his administration from 
selling billions of dollars in weapons and maintenance support to Saudi Arabia.

   Trump, who has sought to forge closer ties with Riyadh, has pledged to veto 
the resolutions of disapproval that passed the Democratic-led House largely 
along party lines. Two of the resolutions passed with 238 votes, while a third 
was approved with 237. Each of the measures garnered just four Republican 
backers.

   The Senate cleared the resolutions last month, but like the House, fell well 
short of a veto-proof majority. Overturning a president's veto requires a 
two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate.

   Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, 
accused the Trump administration of circumventing Congress and the law to move 
ahead with the arms sale. He called the resolutions "extraordinary but 
necessary" to stop "a phony emergency to override the authority of Congress."

   The votes came against the backdrop of heightened tensions in the Middle 
East, with much of the focus on Iran. Tehran is pushing the limits on its 
nuclear program after Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the 
2015 nuclear deal more than a year ago. Iran has inched its uranium production 
and enrichment over the limits of the accord, trying to put more pressure on 
Europe to offer it better terms and allow it to sell its crude oil abroad.

   The White House has declared stopping the sale would send a signal that the 
United States doesn't stand by its partners and allies, particularly at a time 
when threats against them are increasing.

   But opposition among members of Congress to the Trump administration's 
alliance with the Saudis has been building, fueled by the high civilian 
casualties in the Saudi-led war in Yemen --- a military campaign the U.S. is 
assisting --- and the killing of U.S.-based columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi 
agents.

   The arms package, worth an estimated $8 billion, includes thousands of 
precision guided munitions, other bombs and ammunition, and aircraft 
maintenance support for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

   Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had cited Iranian aggression when declaring 
an emergency to approve the weapons sales in May. The Saudis have recently 
faced a number of attacks from Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

   "Right now as I speak Iran is stretching its tentacles of terror across the 
Middle East," said the Foreign Affairs Committee's top Republican, Rep. Michael 
McCaul of Texas, who pushed for the resolutions to be rejected. "If we allow 
them to succeed, terrorism will flourish, instability will reign and the 
security of our allies like Israel will be threatened."

   Critics of the sale also had denounced the White House for bypassing 
congressional review of the arms sales, which was done by  invoking an 
emergency loophole in the Arms Export Control Act.

   Pompeo had informed Congress that he had made the determination "that an 
emergency exists which requires the immediate sale" of the weapons "in order to 
deter further the malign influence of the government of Iran throughout the 
Middle East region."

   The law requires Congress to be notified of potential arms sales, giving the 
body the opportunity to block the sale. But the law also allows the president 
to waive that review process by declaring an emergency that requires the sale 
be made "in the national security interests of the United States."

   Engel said there was no emergency, arguing that two months after Pompeo's 
notification not a single weapon has been shipped and many of them haven't even 
been built.

   "What kind of emergency requires weapons that will be built months and 
months down the road?" Engel said.


(KA)

 
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