Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is defending the Trump administration’s push to close arms deals to Persian Gulf nations that lawmakers on Capitol Hill are seeking to block.
“Saudi Arabia has the right to defend itself,” Mr. Pompeo said. “The United States wants to support our important defense partner in the region.”
Mr. Pompeo said Sunday it would be “most unfortunate” if Congress blocked the sale, as tensions with Iran — an adversary of the Saudi kingdom — heighten.
Lawmaker opposition to Saudi arms sales has expanded since Congress restricted roughly $2 billion worth of weapons over concerns the kingdom was using them in the military campaign in Yemen and in response to the murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an outspoken Saudi dissident.
A bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduced legislation last week that would block the administration’s move to sell $8 billion worth of weapons to Gulf countries.
The bill aims to stop all 22 sales, including the transfer of precision-guided munitions, to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The Senate last week rejected an effort led by Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, to block President Trump’s arms deal to Qatar and Bahrain.
The pair of resolutions that failed in Thursday’s vote were meant to stop the administration from making the sale, but are part of an ongoing message to the White House about limiting arms sales to Middle East countries.
Mr. Paul’s legislation would have stopped a $750 million sale of guided bombs and air-to-ground missiles to Bahrain, and a $3 billion sale of Apache attack helicopters and Hellfire missiles to Qatar.
The latest push comes weeks after the White House opted to skip a congressional review process for the proposed sale by invoking a national security waiver in the Arms Export Control Act. The move angered lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, who argued that such a deal requires congressional approval.
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