Washington, D.C. -- U.S. Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today convened a hearing on "Defense Cooperation: Use of Emergency Authorities under the Arms Export Control Act", with witness testimony from The Honorable R. Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary, political-military affairs at the Department of State.
Chairman Risch gave the following opening statement, as prepared for delivery:
"Thank you all for being here today. Today we are going to discuss the recent emergency declaration regarding U.S. arms sales. To start, we should recognize and acknowledge that the law contemplates and indeed requires a partnership between the executive branch and the legislative branch regarding arms sales. This committee plays an important role to conduct rigorous oversight of the issues. At the same time, current law does grant the President authority to conduct sales without congressional approval in times of emergency.
"This hearing will focus on these roles and authorities. We must consider the context for this latest declaration, namely the active threats and attacks from Iran and its proxies, and our partners’ capabilities to defend against those threats.
"The Arms Export Control Act grants the President authority to declare an emergency concerning specific arms sales and avoid the standard process of Congressional Notification. Such presidential authority dates back more than 40 years, to lessons learned from the October 1973 war in the Middle East.
"Presidents of both parties have used emergency authorities on five previous occasions. In each case, they address specific threats to U.S. allies, and did not alter the standing process of Congressional review nor have a meaningful impact on Congress’ authority over time. I expect this latest declaration will continue that pattern and deserves review in that expectation.
"As with one of the previous emergency declarations, this declaration came in response to threats and attacks from the Iranian regime. Since mid-May, Iran and its proxies have struck commercial ships, civilian airports, and desalination plants critical to the civilian population. Additionally, they shot down multiple U.S. unmanned aircraft. Over the weekend, Iranian-backed Houthi forces in Yemen unveiled even newer models of ballistic missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles, capable of striking deeper into Saudi Arabia.
"Iran’s threats and actions toward the U.S. and our allies have been clear. We must respond to such threats, protect our interests, and support our allies as they defend themselves. Neither this President, nor Congress, nor the American people seek war with Iran. I commend the President for his restraint in the face of numerous provocations. I was in the room as the President considered one of the most recent provocations and sought advice regarding that. Anyone who interpets the President's reasonable forbearance is making a grave mistake that is ripe for miscalculation and should not be mistaken. Attacking America, its interests, or our partners will lead to a strong defensive response. Emergency declarations are useful not just for the tangible military capabilities they transfer to allies and partners, but are equally important for the messages they convey.
"These particular sales come in the context of and are colored by larger challenges with our Saudi and Emirati partners, including the war in Yemen, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and other human-rights issues.
"To address these challenges, I introduced the Saudi Arabia Diplomatic Review Act and sought broad input from all quarters on the bipartisan basis to produce legislation that will move us much more in the right direction. I want to thank all parties including my friends on the other side of the aisle who have been very helpful trying to craft legislation that would get us to where we want to be. I've been impressed how carefully people have weighed this issue and have been impressed with the attempt to reach legislation that balances various aspects of this challenge.
This legislation calls for a comprehensive review of United States-Saudi relations. As we conduct this review, however, we must discourage Iran aggression and must not leave Saudi Arabia vulnerable. Our partners desperately need the capabilities in these sales, complemented by other U.S. training and advising initiatives, to improve their ability to minimize collateral damage and deter aggression.
"We are here today because of the continuing threats of Iran. As we move forward, I urge us all to seek measured solutions to these difficult challenges, and avoid inadvertently strengthening our adversaries or damaging our partners and allies. I really believe this committee has done that and hope we continue to do that.
"I thank our witness for joining us today, and look forward to hearing his perspective on these issues.
"With that, Senator Menendez."
The Honorable R. Clarke Cooper's testimony is available on foreign.senate.gov, as is an archived recording of the full hearing.