March 19, 2024

Congress Can Help Ukraine With Confiscated Iranian Weapons

In February last year, we recommended that the Biden administration send Iranian weapons it interdicted en route to Houthi militants in Yemen to Ukraine. Soon after, journalists asked the State Department and Pentagon about the idea. Over the summer, the Department of Justice began the necessary legal asset forfeiture process to gain ownership of a large cache of seized Iranian weapons and ammunition. In October, the administration began sending these weapons to Ukraine to assist in the defense against Russia’s illegal war of aggression. Since that initial transfer, the Justice Department has not announced any similar asset forfeiture efforts, nor has the Pentagon shipped any more Iranian weapons to Kyiv. While Congress has dithered and failed to appropriate much-needed military support to Ukraine, why hasn’t the Pentagon moved to transfer more of Iran’s weapons to a Ukrainian army that is now forced to ration bullets?

Sending more Iranian weapons to Ukraine would be an effective complement to this larger aid effort at almost no additional cost to the U.S. taxpayer.

The unsatisfying answer is that bureaucratic hurdles are likely disincentivizing senior defense officials from sending the weapons. Currently, the U.S. Attorney’s office, with coordination and support from the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security, must first file an asset forfeiture complaint in federal court to take legal ownership of the seized Iranian weapons so they can be considered U.S. stocks and then transferred to Ukraine under Presidential Drawdown Authority.

To further incentivize and hasten the flow of captured Iranian weapons to Kyiv, Congress should legislate a narrow exemption in Title 18, Section 981 of the U.S. Code, giving the President the authority to declare weapons interdicted between Iran and Yemen as U.S. stocks, notwithstanding current statutory requirements for the filing of an asset forfeiture complaint. A narrow carve-out in which Congress could also legislate a sunset clause and require the President to submit an annual report detailing the use of the authority and an inventory of weapons transferred could enable President Biden to very quickly take weapons seized from a determined adversary and put them in the hands of a desperate partner.

Read the full article from The National Interest.

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