Trump Vetoes Resolutions Seeking to Block Arms Sales to Gulf Allies

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WASHINGTON—President Trump vetoed joint resolutions from Congress that sought to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, calling them an ill-conceived effort to undermine important global partnerships.

In a statement to Congress on Wednesday, Mr. Trump vetoed the three resolutions on the basis that they “weaken America’s global competitiveness and damage the important relationships we share with our allies and partners.”

The House last week approved the resolutions over concerns that Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. are fueling conflict in a protracted war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Mr. Trump in his statement said restricting the ability of Saudi Arabia and other regional allies to produce and purchase precision-guided munitions “would harm—not help—efforts to end the conflict in Yemen.”

The Trump administration has courted close ties with Saudi Arabia over the objections of Congress, most notably following the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S.-based columnist for the Washington Post, by Saudi agents in Istanbul last October.

Mr. Khashoggi’s brutal murder, along with concerns about civilian casualties resulting from a Saudi-led coalition’s military operation in Yemen, prompted lawmakers to block about $2 billion in arms sales to the kingdom for more than a year.

In May, the Trump administration invoked a rarely used provision in federal law to bypass congressional review of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, citing threats that the U.S.’s regional allies face from increasing tensions with Iran.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified Congress of the decision to use an emergency provision in the Arms Export Control Act to move ahead with sales of $7 billion in precision-guided munitions, other bombs and ammunition and aircraft-maintenance support to Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and Jordan without lawmakers’ approval.

Mr. Trump has insisted that commercial ties with Saudi Arabia are important for the U.S. economy. He was widely expected to veto the resolutions.

“While I share concerns that certain Members of Congress have expressed about civilian casualties of this conflict, the United States has taken and will continue to take action to minimize such casualties, including training and advising the Saudi-led Coalition forces to improve their targeting processes,” he said in his statement Wednesday. “We cannot end it through ill-conceived and time-consuming resolutions that fail to address its root causes.”

The president also vetoed efforts by Congress to prohibit the issuance of export licenses for certain defense articles, defense services and technical data to the U.A.E., the U.K. and France.

The White House said that it is providing the licenses, in part, to protect the safety of the more than 80,000 American citizens who reside in Saudi Arabia and are at risk from possible Houthi attacks. It added that the U.A.E. is an important ally in both the fight against the Houthis and against Iranian aggression in the region.

The joint resolution “would degrade the UAE’s military preparedness and ability to protect its sovereignty, directly affecting its ability to defend the thousands of United States military personnel hosted there,” the president said.

Mr. Trump had issued only two vetoes before Wednesday’s action, a pace similar to President Obama’s during his first term.

Congress generally can override a veto by passing an act by a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate. House passage for these joint resolutions came largely along party lines, while in the Senate, seven Republicans joined every Senate Democrat on the first two of three votes on blocking the group of arms sales, which in total are worth more than $8 billion.

Write to Vivian Salama at vivian.salama@wsj.com

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