Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said Friday in an exclusive interview with Breitbart News that a newly-announced $8 billion in arms sales to Middle East allies would help protect their and America’s interests against increased Iranian threats in the region.
“It is significant that we are not only demonstrating our will to continue to help them support and defend their countries and deter these threats, but the challenge from the Islamic Republic of Iran that we face,” Pompeo said in a phone interview.
“We’ve seen the heightened tensions over the last handful of weeks, so our expectation is that the risks will continue to stay at a heightened level, so it is appropriate and necessary to get these arms sales moving forward,” he said.
The State Department on Friday notified Congress of 22 pending arms sales to the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia worth $8 billion total. The equipment includes aircraft support maintenance; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); munitions; and other equipment.
Pompeo said that the first sales will begin to be delivered within the next few weeks, but others could take some months. “It’s about prioritization, delivery schedule, availability,” he said.
“One of the reasons we need to start today…is some of these things do take time,” he added. “You gotta take that first step, or you can’t get to where you hopefully need to be, and that’s what’s today’s declaration is about.”
The arms sales were previously blocked by members of Congress more than a year ago. While most foreign arms sales are approved by Congress, the State Department in this case is drawing upon an authority under Section 36 of the Arms Export Control Act that allows the administration to undertake arms sales in an emergency.
The State Department has determined the increased threat-stream from Iran constitutes an emergency.
On May 3, U.S. Central Command commander Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie received intelligence showing there were increased threats from Iran to U.S. forces and assets in the Middle East. On May 5, the Pentagon approved his request to send an aircraft carrier, a bomber squadron, and a Patriot anti-missile battery to the region.
Shortly thereafter, there were attacks on four oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and an attack on a Saudi pipeline that the Pentagon later attributed to Iran. On Sunday, a rocket landed less than a mile from the U.S. Embassy in Iraq that was also attributed to Iranian or Iranian-backed forces in the country. On Friday, the Pentagon announced it was extending the mission of 600 troops that deployed with the battery, and was sending 900 additional troops for a total of 1,500.
The attacks and threats have come as the U.S. has ramped up its economic pressure on Iran, to force it back to the negotiating table over its nuclear program, which the West suspects is a weapons program. In April, the administration designation the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, and announced it would end waivers for sanctions on the remaining countries buying oil from Iran.
Pompeo said the attacks were designed to increase the risk to shippers so that crude oil prices will rise and the Islamic Republican of Iran can expand its capacity to inflict terror around the world. “The attempts that you’ve seen over the past week, the attacks on the four commercial tankers, the attacks on the east-west pipeline in Saudi Arabia aim squarely at the heart of Western democratic economies,” he said.
The arms sales would help partners ensure that important sea lanes remain open, and that crude oil is delivered at prices that keep American businesses growing and successful, he said.
“We’ve had some success at disrupting that so far, but we must be ever-vigilant. We need to ensure that we protect our interests, that we do our best to help our allies protect their own commercial vessels, their own territory, and this set of weapons sales is a component of that,” he said.
Pompeo pushed back against criticism from members of Congress that the administration was bypassing them.
“This isn’t going around Congress. The authority that the president used today was granted to us by Congress. It passed the law, it would have been signed by a previous president and provided us specific authority to conduct arms sales in precisely the manner in which we’re doing, so it’s not a bypass of Congress. Indeed we are expressly following the will of Congress in doing this,” he said.
He also addressed criticism over selling arms to Saudi Arabia after the high-profile murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Turkey, calling the murder “horrific” but saying, “this is the right thing to do.”
“Look, we are here supporting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan to protect their interests and also it protects ours, American interests. This is the right thing to do. And those are important strategic partners to the United States,” he said.
Pompeo also noted that if the U.S. did not sell Saudi Arabia and other regional allies the weapons, they would buy them from the Russians or the Chinese, who have very different interests from the U.S. He argued that buying the systems from the U.S. also decreases the risks of misuse of these systems. The sales will also create 40,000 jobs in the U.S., he said.
In response to the administration’s pressure campaign, former Obama officials and Democrats have launched their own campaign to save the Iran nuclear deal, which the U.S. pulled out of last year. In a series of op-eds and statements in recent weeks, they have accused the Trump administration of wanting war with Iran.
Pompeo called suggestions the administration wants war with Iran “patently false.”
“I’ve said it, the president’s said it, we do not war with the Islamic Republican of Iran,” he said. However, he said, Iran must stop its dangerous behavior.
“For 40 years, the Iranians have attacked and killed Americans. They’ve made clear their intentions to continue to do so. They continue to chant ‘death to America.’ They continue to talk about wiping Israel from the face of the earth. They’re the most antisemitic country by policy in the world, and so that’s a real threat,” he said.
“We don’t war with them. What we want them to do is to cease their nuclear program, we want them to step away from their proxy campaign attempting to essentially control five capitals in the Middle East,” he continued.
“We want them to cease continuing to develop their missile program that could launch nuclear missile weapons across the world,” he said. “The UN Security Council said the same thing, and UN Security Council [Resolution] 2231. That’s what we’re looking for, and we’re using peaceful means — economic and diplomatic efforts to achieve those ends.”
He blasted the Obama administration’s approach to dealing with Iran, and said President Trump has pursued a different path.
“The Obama administration for the last eight years had appeased Iran and allowed them to grow their terror regime, enhance the capacity of their proxies threatening not only the United States and Israel, but the Gulf States as well,” he said.
“President Trump has taken a very different approach and done our best to deny the Iranians the capacity to conduct their terror campaigns,” he said.
“These arms sales are a piece of our complete effort, of the holistic package of efforts we’re undertaking to deter Iran and to deny them the resources they need to inflict these terror efforts all around the world,” he said.