Lawmakers Aim to Prevent Trump From Bypassing Ban on Armed Drone Sales

Mr. Murphy said that by making parts of the arms control pact legally binding, “Congress can stop Trump in his tracks.” He noted that “doing so will protect innocent civilians, stop an arms race from spiraling out of control and strengthen U.S. national security and our interests abroad.”

U.S. intelligence agencies are also scrutinizing whether Saudi Arabia could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region. In recent weeks, they have circulated an analysis examining whether the kingdom aims to develop nuclear weapons based on early efforts at producing nuclear fuel.

The White House and Congress have long clashed over arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Last year, lawmakers passed a bipartisan resolution that would require the U.S. government to end its support for the war in Yemen, but Mr. Trump vetoed the measure.

Since 2017, senators from both parties have put holds on packages of proposed arms sales to the two Persian Gulf countries. In May 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared an “emergency” over Iran’s activities in the Middle East to push through $8.1 billion worth of sales of munitions to those countries, which are adversaries of Iran.

That incensed Congress, and some lawmakers asked the State Department inspector general at the time, Steve A. Linick, to investigate whether Mr. Pompeo had acted illegally. Mr. Linick did so in June 2019, and the inquiry was near completion this May when Mr. Trump fired Mr. Linick, at the urging of Mr. Pompeo. Three congressional committees are now investigating that dismissal and trying to scrutinize Mr. Pompeo’s push over the arms packages.

The arms control pact bans the sales of drones that can carry at least 500 kilograms, or over 1,100 pounds, of weapons over 300 kilometers, about 186 miles. That includes the MQ-9 Reaper made by General Atomics, based in San Diego. This year, General Atomics stepped up efforts to lobby American officials to bypass the arms control pact and allow sales of advanced armed drones.

Arms sales to the gulf nations have strong support in the White House. Mr. Trump has backed such sales, as have Peter Navarro, a trade adviser, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and adviser on the Middle East. Using WhatsApp, Mr. Kushner stays in close touch with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, the de facto ruler of the country. Congressional opposition to arms sales to Saudi Arabia gained enormous traction after the grisly killing in October 2018 of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi columnist for The Washington Post who lived in Virginia.