On Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the Trump administration, determined not to let Iran target America’s allies in the Middle East, is declaring an emergency and accelerating the process so that U.S. allies will receive arms sales more quickly.
Pompeo released a statement explaining the action that read:
Today, I made a determination pursuant to section 36 of the Arms Export Control Act and directed the Department to complete immediately the formal notification of 22 pending arms transfers to Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia totaling approximately $8.1 billion to deter Iranian aggression and build partner self-defense capacity. These sales will support our allies, enhance Middle East stability, and help these nations to deter and defend themselves from the Islamic Republic of Iran.
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.
Pompeo continued by slamming Congress for its recalcitrance in addressing the issue:
These national security concerns have been exacerbated by many months of Congressional delay in addressing these critical requirements, and have called into doubt our reliability as a provider of defense capabilities, opening opportunities for U.S. adversaries to exploit. The equipment notified today includes aircraft support maintenance; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); 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.
Confronting criticism that the Trump administration was acting unilaterally without Congressional approval, Pompeo noted that the circumstances required a one-time intercession, and also stated pointedly that this kind of action the Trump administration is taking has plenty of precedents:
I intend for this determination to be a one-time event. Section 36 is a long-recognized authority and has been utilized by at least four previous administrations since 1979, including Presidents Reagan and Carter. This specific measure does not alter our long-standing arms transfer review process with Congress. I look forward to continuing to work with Congress to develop prudent measures to advance and protect U.S. national security interests in the region.
The United States is, and must remain, a reliable security partner to our allies and partners around the world. These partnerships are a cornerstone of our National Security Strategy, which this decision reaffirms.
Section 36 of the Arms Control Act gives the president authority to declare an emergency to expedite delivery of arms. It states: “If the President states in his certification that an emergency exists which requires the immediate approval of the agreement in the national security interests of the United States, thus waiving the requirements of paragraph (4), he shall set forth in the certification a detailed justification for his determination, including a description of the emergency circumstances which necessitate the immediate approval of the agreement and a discussion of the national security interests involved. Approval for an agreement subject to paragraph (1) may not be given under section 38 if the Congress, within the 15-day or 30-day period specified in paragraph (2)(A) or (B), as the case may be, enacts a joint resolution prohibiting such approval.”
As The Congressional Research Service explains: “In general, the executive branch, after complying with the terms of applicable U.S. law, principally contained in the AECA, is free to proceed with an arms sales proposal unless Congress passes legislation prohibiting or modifying the proposed sale. Under current law Congress faces two fundamental obstacles to block or modify a presidential sale of military equipment: it must pass legislation expressing its will on the sale, and it must be capable of overriding a presumptive presidential veto of such legislation.”
On Friday, President Trump announced that an additional 1,500 U.S. troops are being sent to the Middle East in the effort to deal with Iranian aggression in the region.