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Trump officials set to bypass Congress for Saudi Arabia arms sales: report

Congressional aids say Trump will cite rising tensions with Iran as reason to increase equipment sales to Saudi Arabia
US President Donald Trump delivers remarks on supporting America's farmers and ranchers at the White House in Washington, DC (AFP)

Donald Trump's administration is planning to bypass Congress to allow the sale of $7 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are involved in a bloody war in Yemen, The New York Times reported Thursday.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and several State Department appointees are pushing the administration to invoke an emergency provision that would allow Trump to prevent Congress from halting the sales, which are currently on hold.

Reports of the plan have angered politicians on both sides of the aisle, who are frustrated by the government's support for the Saudi-led coalition in the ongoing Yemen war.

Democratic Representative Eliot Engel, who chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, called invoking the provision a "slap in Congress's face."

"I have deep concerns about how our Gulf partners have conducted the war in Yemen, including with US weapons, some of which have reportedly ended up in the wrong hands in Yemen," he said in a statement.

Congressional aides said Trump would cite rising tensions with Iran as a reason to provide more military equipment to Saudi Arabia, which he sees as an important US partner in the region, according to Reuters.

Trump previously declared an influx of immigrants a national emergency to bypass Congress and get $6 billion to build his wall along the Mexican border. Both Democrats and his fellow Republicans voted to block the move, forcing Trump to issue the first veto of his presidency.

It was not immediately clear what equipment would be sold to Saudi Arabia or when any sale might go ahead.

The provision could be invoked within the next few days, the Times said, citing current and former officials, as well as legislators familiar with the plan.

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Wednesday: "We do not comment to confirm or deny potential arms sales or transfers until Congress is formally notified."

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy took to Twitter to denounce the potential move, which would allow Trump to claim the sale constitutes an emergency, thereby preventing Congress from voting against it.

It's "a loophole that would allow any President to claim any number of Middle East crises as an 'emergency' and then Congress will never ever be able to object to an arms sale again," he said on Twitter.

He added that if there is an emergency, then it is a "humanitarian emergency caused by the bombs we sell the Saudis."

The war in Yemen is the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with the World Health Organisation estimating that nearly 10,000 people have been killed in the country since March 2015, but rights groups say the toll could be far higher.

Congress dealt Trump a harsh rebuke in March with a historic bipartisan resolution that would have curtailed the president's war-making powers and ended American support for the Saudi-led coalition.

Trump vetoed the measure in April, the second such move of his presidency.

The sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia risks further inflaming the already-tense relations between the US and Iran, which views Riyadh as one of its main rivals.