US Secretary of State Pompeo defends arms sales to Saudi Arabia

US Secretary of State Pompeo defends arms sales to Saudi Arabia
US State Secretary Mike Pompeo defended his fast-tracking of arms sales to Saudi Arabia after an internal probe found the State Department to have insufficiently assessed civilian casualties in Yemen.
3 min read
12 August, 2020
The UN in September accused the US of complicity in war crimes in Yemen [Getty]
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday defended the United States' sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia following an internal investigation that found that the State Department did not properly assess the risk of civilian casualties in Yemen.

A report by a State Department Inspector General released Tuesday found that insufficient measures were taken to assess and mitigate the deaths of Yemeni civilians linked to over $8 billion in Trump administration arms sales to Saudi Arabia and its allies.

The probe cleared US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of wrongdoing after his use of an emergency procedure to fast-track arms sales in May last year drew sharp criticism from US lawmakers.

At a Wednesday press conference with Czech prime minister Andrej Babis, Pompeo said the Inspector General's conclusion about the State Department's assessment of casualties in Yemen is "unfounded".

"We did everything by the book, we complied by the law," said Pompeo. I'm proud of the work that my team did and we got to a really good outcome. We prevented the loss of civilian lives."

"We were very thoughtful about how we reviewed the risks, we did it right," he added. "Of course we want to protect civilian lives. We want to protect civilian lives in Yemen, we want to protect civilian lives in Riyadh and in Abu Dhabi and in Dubai and the decision that we made absolutely did that."

Pompeo was accused of abuse of power after he used an obscure emergency procedure to ram through $8.1 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies in May of last year, despite opposition from the US Congress.

In September, the UN accused the US of complicity in war crimes in Yemen, where the Saudi-led coalition has been accused of intentionally starving Yemenis as a tactic of war and killing thousands of civilians in airstrikes carried out by US precision-guided bombs, in charges echoed by human rights groups.

Tuesday's internal report conceded that the State Department also regularly approved arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates "that fell below" legal thresholds requiring Congressional notification.

It noted some "4,221 below-threshold arms transfers involving Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates" since January 2017, which went ahead despite a hold on the same types of weapons, including components of precision-guided bombs, when they were part of a larger package.

Then-inspector general Steve Linick led the investigation into Pompeo's declaration of an emergency that permitted the Trump administration to sell the arms and bypass Congress.

Linick was also said to be investigating allegations that Pompeo and his wife used staff for personal favors, such as walking their dog. President Donald Trump fired Linick in May of this year following Pompeo's advice.

Linick's acting successor, Stephen Akard, abruptly resigned last week as his office was finalizing the report.

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