July 21, 2020 / 4:38 PM / 14 days ago

Trump nominee backs congressional weapons reviews under fire from White House

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s nominee for a top State Department arms control position said on Tuesday he supported congressional review of foreign weapons sales, a sign the administration could be backing away from talk of ending the long-standing system.

Trump, frustrated by delays in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia in particular, was considering whether to end a four-decade-old system in which the leaders of congressional foreign affairs committees have hade the right to review, and block, weapons sales to foreign governments, congressional aides said last month.

Marshall Billingslea, Trump’s nominee to be under secretary of State for arms control and international security, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he “strongly” supported the review process.

“I well know how important the informal notification process is. And I support continuing the existing informal notification for the congressional clearance of arms sales,” Billingslea told senators during his confirmation hearing in response to a question from Democratic Senator Chris Coons.

Ending the review process was opposed by members of both parties in both the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-led House of Representatives.

A year ago, Trump infuriated lawmakers by declaring a national emergency in order to complete $8 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, clearing the way for major deals involving companies such as Lockheed Martin Corp, Raytheon and Boeing.

Members of Congress had delayed sales of military equipment to the region, angry about the war in Yemen as well as rights abuses like the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Military aid was also integral to Trump’s impeachment last year, which centred on whether he had held up such aid to Ukraine to exert political pressure on its government.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the review process and Billingslea’s comment.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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