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Briefing With Senior State Department Official On the Office of the Inspector General's Report on Certification for Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan

Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesperson
Via Teleconference
August 10, 2020

MODERATOR: Hey, good afternoon, everybody, and thanks for joining us on this call, this on-background briefing on the Office of the Inspector General's report, the May 2019 Emergency Certification for Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Jordan. For your awareness but not for reporting, joining us on the call to brief is [Senior State Department Official]. He will be referred to as a senior State Department official. As a reminder, the contents of this call are embargoed until its completion. And with that, I'll go ahead and turn it over to [Senior State Department Official].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Great. Thank you, [Moderator]. So good afternoon, everybody. I wanted to share the findings in the report that came out from the State Department's Office of Inspector General, which essentially confirmed in their final report that the department acted in complete accordance of the law and found no wrongdoing in the administration's exercise of the emergency authorities that are available under the Arms Export Control Act, or the AECA.

I'd like to actually particularly note that the principal finding is that Secretary Pompeo's emergency certification back in May of 2019 regarding these 22 proposed sales and transfers of U.S. defense equipment articles to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Jordan – this is totaling $8.1 billion – was completely consistent with all the statutory requirements and well within the realm of the Secretary's authorities.

To note specifically the OIG did determine that the Secretary's May 2019 use of emergency authority was executed in accordance with statutes within the requirements of Section 36 of the AECA. The OIG determined the emergency certification was properly executed, and the OIG determined the documentation compiled with the requirements outlined in the AECA.

So again, re-emphasizing here that what was what was confirmed in that final report is the department did its job; the Secretary used the authorities that were afforded to him in the AECA. And again, it's not really a unique determination. If anything, the report also notes that this certification process, this emergency authority, has been applied elsewhere. In fact, so most of you on this call may recall the department having cited other applications of the emergency certification authority – three that I will cite here. Again, for those of you who have been following this, this is not new but this is also cited in the OIG report.

One of them, President Carter in 1979 sought emergency certification for a Saudi-financed (inaudible) facility in North Yemen to combat South Yemen's Marxist insurgency. And then later in 1984, President Reagan sought to provide Saudi Arabia with Stinger missiles to deter Iranian threats to their infrastructure and (inaudible). And then in – then further in 1990, President George H.W. Bush sought to expedite equipment to Saudi Arabia ahead of the Gulf War in 1990. Those citations, including for Geroge W. Bush and, of course, President Donald Trump, were included in the applications, and the OIG cited those as historic citations that were relevant to the application of the emergency certification – again, far from a unique determination in that sense.

The big takeaway from this is, again, OIG determined that the Secretary used these authorities in accordance with the law and that the certification was properly executed by the Department of State.

So at this point, I'm happy to take any questions, to talk with you about the posture in the region. I would offer that the threat has not abated and the necessity for the certification that was made a year ago is still a requirement and was the right thing to do. And the response to that was exactly what was necessary in 2019 and remains applicable.

So [Moderator], if you want to open up the call.

MODERATOR: Yes. So we'll take your questions. If you want to get in the question queue, dial 1 and then 0. For our first question, can we go to the line of Nick Wadhams?

QUESTION: Hey. I just wanted to ask – I know this may be difficult, but it's very hard to figure out specific questions to ask you when we haven't actually seen the report and aren't able to see for ourselves whether it amounts to the complete exoneration that you said it is. Is it at all possible for you to send us the report so we can ask those questions? Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The OIG will be issuing the report if they haven't already. This is sequenced with their pushing out the report. So yes. What I was reading to you were citations from the report, the OIG determinations. So that – that release is imminent – if not this evening, then tomorrow, from my understanding.

MODERATOR: Okay. For our next question, let's go to the line of Joel Gehrke.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. I just wondered – this is kind of a housekeeping question following up on my colleague – but who signed off on this report? Given Mr. Akard's recent departure, how was it – how was it conducted? Was it related to his departure, or would it have been done independently of him, or just how did that work?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. So you're talking about the final issuance? So yeah, so prior to completion of the report, as you know, the previous IG was removed and then Steve Akard was in as acting. So as far as issuance, to your question on the administration of this, the acting inspector general, he had recused himself from this matter and delegated the responsibility to a deputy inspector general, Diana Shaw. And so that – as far as like that issuance was – is via – via the deputy. So that would be Deputy Inspector Diana Shaw on the final issuance of this.

MODERATOR: Great. Let's go to the line of –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I just want to go back just because there is a technical question. Just for your understanding of the timeline, the OIG had briefed their findings to the department in November of 2019 and in March and found no wrongdoing at the time. So the – if you go back to when all the work was essentially completed, those findings were briefed late last year and again in March.

MODERATOR: Great. For our next question, let's go to the line of Humeyra Pamuk, Reuters.

QUESTION: Hello. Thank you. I was just wondering if – will the license for Saudi Arabia to make precision munitions be revoked? I'm just wondering about that. And I'm also wondering, as you know, House has an investigation into this, and they sent – they've issued subpoenas. Does the Secretary and his aides have any plans to oblige by those subpoenas? Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Can you restate your first part about the PGMs, because I heard that and I didn't hear the first part of it. Ma'am?

MODERATOR: Humeyra, if you could press 1 and 0, get back in queue so that we can bring your line back up.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Your line is open. Please, go ahead, Humeyra.

QUESTION: Can you hear me?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, now I can hear you fine.

QUESTION: All right. So Raytheon license to produce precision guided munitions in Saudi Arabia. I was just wondering if there – if it actually got even on the table whether that license is going to be revoked.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So the provision of PGMs to Saudi Arabia was included through related co-production arrangements as well as the actual munition itself, and it was part of that emergency certification or emergency notification that went out in May of 2019. This was definitely part of the analysis is factoring in within our particular national interests, and when we're looking at the response to the Iranian threat that was emanating not only directly from Iran but from proxy forces, this is where we did include PGMs in the emergency declaration.

So when one looks at the broad $8.1 billion that was – those were included in that declaration. And again, looking at what capabilities were answered and replied to, many of them which we can discuss on an open call (inaudible) the direct corollary in response to particular threats that needed to be met with requirements and capabilities that could actually mitigate those threats to our partners in the region. But no, there is – what has been identified, what was identified in the emergency declaration, there would be – there is no intent to change course.

MODERATOR: Okay. For our next question, let's go to Jared Szuba with Al-Monitor.

QUESTION: Hi, sir. Two quick questions. The June Report on Trafficking In Persons mentions that two Saudi officials are potentially going to be prosecuted and that contributed to the decision to bump Saudi Arabia up to Tier 2. I was wondering if you can tell us who those Saudi officials are, what they were involved in, and whether or not the deputy IG's resignation has anything to do with this report.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don't have visibility from the TIP of the assessment on those individuals, and that's not something I would have visibility on. I mean, I would ask that elsewhere. And I can't imagine how that would have anything to do with the IG unless there was something – a particular focus. But it wouldn't be – it wouldn't be related to what we're talking about today.

MODERATOR: Okay, let's go to the line of Kylie Atwood, CNN.

QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. I'm just curious, I mean, given that we have not seen the report yet, as Nick pointed out, why are you doing the call before we have had a chance to review the report? And will you be doing another one after it's been made public? And then I'm just wondering if you have any disagreements with any of the conclusions in the report itself. Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. So the – I would offer one thing: We're just making sure that people are tracking that the report's out. There will certainly – probably be some availabilities once it's out on the street and out there.

I would say as far as observations, one of the things that we have provided and highlighted to the OIG at the time on feedback was that we – so the report confirms what we had long maintained: The Secretary's certification met the requirements of the Arms Export Control Act. It also – we were quick to point out is that the challenges and the issues in the region, in the Gulf, resulting and had resulted directly from the aggression coming from Iran, their malign activities, (inaudible) proxies well over the past year, showed why we had to take the appropriate action, why the Secretary needed to take appropriate action.

There was some, I would say, disagreement, which you'll – in the report where the OIG had misidentified on a – I would say status on some findings about non-threshold or non-CN cases, and we had to walk them through and explain that – what the legal requirements are for congressional notification, what that practice is, what the administration and every administration had been doing since 1976. So I would say there was probably a significant amount of edification that had to be provided to the OIG as to what is the statute, what is the law.

And then also, probably, I would say looking backward, there was a significant amount of effort to walk OIG through the processes for foreign military sales, for direct commercial sales, how those are different, and what parameters are there. And also explaining to the OIG what is statutory and what has been either practice or protocol in the informal sense with – between the department and the Congress.

MODERATOR: Okay. Let's next go to the line of Laura Kelly.

QUESTION: Hi, yes, thank you. Again, since we haven't seen the report, I'm wondering if you could talk about what are some of the recommendations that the inspector general made in the report and if you guys concurred with them.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. No, I'm happy to – so yes, there was – so one recommendation that the department and actually the interagency had actually been working on – there's a recommendation that State implement additional mitigation measures to reduce the risk of U.S.-origin defense articles either provided or transferred to allies and partners contributing to civilian harm, reducing the risk of civilian harm. So we agree with that, of course. This is not a position that was of any surprise. There's many parties involved in security cooperation and security capacities with allies and partners that have – I would say several sets of hands on doing this.

So the report reflected what the department had been doing, so that was – I would say that was probably a very interesting collaborative part where we were able to show in this instance the advanced targeting development initiative, and the important data point here is that having a more stringent reduction of civilian harm or more stringent risk mitigation, that was directed and very much part and parcel with President Trump's conventional arms transfer policy. Now, looking backward, remember the CAT policy – the conventional arms transfer policy – that was back in 2018, so there was already a directive in place before the emergency declaration where State, along with other members of the interagency, were developing this advanced targeting development initiative.

So what the OIG report did – they had a recommendation. Our comeback was, "Yes, acknowledged, we were already – we were already directed via the President's CAT policy to do this anyway. Here's what we're doing, here's what's in development, and here's what we're providing to mitigate risk or reduce the risk of civilian harm, mitigate or reduce the risk of civilian casualty. One of the things to remember about that, regardless of OIG or no OIG, is that department officials from not just the Political-Military Affairs Bureau but other relevant bureaus had reviewed all the cases that were in emergency certification. That is – would be a normal part of the process anyway. And then when we're looking at, as referenced in the IG report, it isn't as if we've stopped our work. I mean, this is – we are continuing to work.

And when we're talking specifically to the emergency certification and what we're doing to assist and to help the Saudi-led coalition, part of that is inclusive of a number of actions. So what are those? Well, this would be inclusive of additional training, actually providing better equipment – somebody asked earlier about precision-guidance – that is exactly it – having the training and capabilities to be more precise (inaudible) – and then the advisory capacities of the Saudi military to help them actually improve what some would call target integrity but – or others, targeting processes to actually avoid civilian sites or civilian areas. And then, of course, from – additional aspect of that is continuance and expanding the training on LOAC or the Law of Armed Conflict, and being able to apply best practices.

But again, where there was – and I mentioned earlier how there was an edification process with the IG analysts was to show them here what we've been – here's what our mandate is from the President. We've already started this; it's still going. So I would say that's probably the best example of where – aside from the OIG saying, "Hey, you all did your job," their recommendation on taking additional measures to mitigate civilian harm was not only noted but an opportunity to actually share what has been done and what we're continuing to do.

MODERATOR: Okay. I think we have time for one more question. Let's go to the line of Nick Schifrin.

QUESTION: Just a couple of questions that Mr. Linick has brought up in his testimony that I want to ask about, and I'm not sure you'll be able to answer these, but I'm interested if you can. So Linick said that he asked the Secretary for an interview regarding this report, that the Secretary refused after Linick insisted a witness be there. And also Linick testified that Brian Bulatao pressured him to act in ways that Linick felt were inappropriate, and specifically that – saying that Linick – that this investigation into weapon sales to Saudi Arabia was not a matter for Linick to investigate. So could you respond to both of those, whether the Secretary refused to be a witness and whether there was any kind of telling of Linick not to pursue this matter? Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, all I can say from my awareness is that we were notified by the IG that they were doing this. So from a bureau perspective, the first response we had was, "Well, what are you hoping to improve? And if you have questions about how we do our work, open book, here we are," hence no surprise the IG came out with the finding that the bureau and the department did its job. So – and I can't speak to anything outside of how we as a bureau were contacted and the work that was done to provide answers in the myriad of interviews that they did.

But safe to say I think it's a natural question for any bureau on any portfolio if the IG comes knocking that they're coming – they're supposed to be coming to look at where there could be room for additional efforts, maybe resources sometimes. Sometimes the IG is able to help find where resources are necessary. In this case, it was a review of what we do, and again, there was a significant amount of edification provided to the IG of here are the statutory authorities that the department operates on, here's how it's operated, here is the diligence that's applied by the bureau and the interagency on all of these cases, and here's also a significant amount of work and effort that may not be captured in statutes but has been essentially followed as a practice or a protocol or, in some cases, oral (inaudible) history.

MODERATOR: Okay, thank you so much for taking the time to brief everyone today, [Senior State Department Official], and to everyone who joined the call. As this is the end of the call, the embargo on the contents is lifted. Have a great afternoon.

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