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Top US Democrat warns of another Pompeo-Saudi arms deal

Bob Menendez says Trump administration is currently trying to sell thousands of precision-guided bombs to Riyadh
Senator Bob Menendez, left, called into question motives behind another Saudi arms sale (AFP)

A top Senate Democrat has warned that Mike Pompeo has been pursuing another arms deal with Saudi Arabia, just after allegations surfaced that the US Secretary of State had fired an internal investigator looking into the most recent Saudi weapons deal.

Bob Menendez, a senator from New Jersey, wrote in an opinion piece for CNN that the Trump administration was currently "trying to sell thousands more precision-guided bombs" to Riyadh.

Fired US investigator was looking into arms deal with Riyadh: Top Democrat
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"Before we went into pandemic lockdown, I received draft State Department documentation that it is now pursuing this previously undisclosed sale," Menendez wrote.

"The administration has refused to answer our fundamental questions to justify this new sale and articulate how it would be consistent with US values and national security objectives."

Without going into further details about the sale, the senator called into question the motives behind it, asking the administration why it needs to sell the additional missiles after the previous $8bn deal made through an emergency declaration by the president.

"Congress must reject this new multi-million dollar sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia," Menendez wrote.

'Reward an unsavoury customer of US arms'

Earlier this month, Pompeo came under heavy scrutiny after firing Inspector General (IG) Steve Linick, who at the time was investigating the controversial arms sale made by the US last year.

The deal came on the heels of an emergency declaration issued by the Trump administration in May 2019, which allowed the sale to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

'There was no emergency. It was a fabricated tale to reward an eager and unsavoury customer of US arms'

- Bob Menendez, US senator

The sale had been initially blocked by Congress, but with an executive order by the president, the administration was able to bypass the legislative branch to approve it.

The Arms Export Control Act says the president can determine if "an emergency exists" that requires a sale to be made immediately "in the national security interests of the United States".

An official who spoke to CNN said the inspector general's office had been informed that State Department employees were asked to reverse-engineer a justification for the emergency order during one of the office's probes into Pompeo's actions late last year. 

"There was no emergency. It was a fabricated tale to reward an eager and unsavoury customer of US arms," Menendez wrote.

The Trump administration, including Pompeo, has denied that Linick's firing had anything to do with the investigation, insisting that he had been terminated for "undermining" the State Department's mission. 

"Linick's firing casts the first anniversary of that multi-billion dollar mistake into stark contrast," Menendez wrote.

"Not only has the President admitted to removing the IG at Pompeo's behest, but the administration is also trying to get Congress to rubber stamp another massive sale of munitions to the Saudis."

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