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6 May, 2017 03:59

US in talks with Saudi Arabia over arms sales worth tens of billions – report

US in talks with Saudi Arabia over arms sales worth tens of billions – report

The US and Saudi Arabia have reportedly intensified negotiations over arms deals potentially worth tens of billions of dollars. The purported agreement looks to go beyond or make major shifts from the Obama administration.

Washington and Riyadh have been engaged in talks over multi-billion arms deals, Reuters reported Friday, citing unnamed sources within the administration.

Notably, Saudi Arabia is set to be the first stop on President Donald Trump’s maiden foreign trip since taking the office.

Sources told Reuters the arms package includes a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system from Lockheed Martin, similar to the one being made operational in South Korea, which costs around $1 billion.

The countries have also been negotiating over a C2BMC software system and a package of satellite capabilities, also provided by Lockheed. The Bradley Fighting Vehicle and M109 artillery vehicle manufactured by BAE Systems PLC could also be included in the package, sources told Reuters.

There are reportedly more than $1 billion worth of munitions, including armor-piercing Penetrator Warheads and Paveway laser-guided bombs made by the Raytheon Co.

The deal could also contain contracts that have been under discussion for years but was never finalized. One of the newly negotiated contracts was previously approved by the State Department in 2015, and includes four multi-mission surface combat ships costing $11.5 billion.

If the deal is sealed, it would be the first time the US has sold a new small surface warship to a foreign country in decades.

Trump repeatedly made promises on the campaign trail to create manufacturing jobs in the US. However, any major arms sale to a foreign country is subject to oversight by Congress, which will have to decide if such a huge sale would cause Israel to lose its military edge over its neighbors.

The US has been the main supplier of military supplies to Saudi Arabia and provides maintenance and training to Saudi security forces.

The two allies are looking to improve relations, which were strained after former President Barack Obama signed a nuclear deal with Iran.

Sources told Reuters that Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia could be the catalyst for the arms negotiations to accelerate.

In December 2016, Obama halted the sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia over concerns that the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) was targeting civilians in Yemen. That policy was reversed by the State Department after Trump took office.

In April, 31 lawmakers wrote a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis, requesting information about the sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia. The lawmakers expressed concern over the conduct of the RSAF in Yemen.

It is in our national security interest – as well as that of our Saudi partners – to ensure that the RSAF has the ability to avoid civilian casualties before the US sells them any additional air-to-ground munitions,” the letter read.

On Friday, Human Rights Watch said they have counted a total of 81 attacks from the Saudi-led coalition which violate the laws of war, some likely amounting to war crimes, including attacks on hospitals, markets, schools and religious centers. 

The current State Department website states that Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has “remained poor.