‘Shooting blanks’: Trump’s $110bn arms deal with Saudis mostly speculative – report
On May 20, Trump negotiated an arms deal with Riyadh. The State Department said it was worth nearly $110 billion to support “the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of malign Iranian influence and Iranian related threat.”
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer hailed it the “largest single arms deal in US history.”
The State Department then released a general list of the weapons that were included in the deal. However, many experts have said that most of the arms sales had not been cleared by the State Department, Congress or even the industries themselves.
On Thursday, Defense News released a more detailed list of the weapons included in the deal, according to documents they obtained from the White House.
The ‘deal’ lists $84.8 billion under memos of intent (MOI) “to be offered at visit,” and $12.5 billion under letters of agreement (LOA), rather than contracts.
NPR also obtained a list of commercial deals from a White House spokeswoman and found that it added up to $267 billion, but said most of the deals were listed as “memoranda of understanding” (MOU).
“There is no $110 billion deal,” Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Bruce Riedel wrote in blog post Monday.
“Instead, there are a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but not contracts,” Riedel said. “Even then the numbers don’t add up. It’s fake news.”
Defense News listed many of the weapons and systems in the deal, which they said were “potential” sales. One of the most expensive component of the ‘deal’ was for seven THAAD batteries, worth $13.5 billion. The estimated delivery time for the systems was between 2023 and 2026.
Riedel says although the Saudis have expressed interest in the systems for years, no contracts have been finalized. He also said that former President Barack Obama approved the sale in principle at a summit in 2015.
Most of the deals were negotiated by former President Barack Obama, according to Riedel. He calls the deal a “wish list” and claims the Saudis will not be able to pay for the $110 billion deal, since they are currently struggling to meet the payments on a 2012 arms deal, due to falling oil prices.
“What the Saudis and the administration did is put together a notional package of the Saudi wish list of possible deals and portray that as a deal,” Riedel said.
The list from Defense News also contains four new Lockheed Martin-built frigates, worth $6 billion. The estimated delivery time for the frigates is between 2025 and 2028.
However, Riedel said that the proposal for those frigates was first reported in 2015, and no contract has been signed. He also claims the frigate is a derivative of a vessel that the Navy uses which “doesn’t actually exist yet.”
The list from Defense News also contains 150 S-70 Black Hawk utility helicopters, but Riedel says that this deal is also “repackaged” from the Obama administration.
Trump said the deal created “tremendous investments in the United States,” according to The Hill. He also promised “jobs, jobs, jobs” to come as a result.
The Saudi government said that the 150 Black Hawk helicopters would be assembled locally, leading to about 450 jobs being created in the Kingdom. Not so, according to Arab News.
The list from Defense News also contains $4.46 billion for more than 100,000 air-to-ground munitions, $2 billion for “light close air support,” $2 billion for four additional aircraft “of a to-be-determined variety,” $6.65 billion for enhancements to Saudis’ Patriot anti-missile system and $800 million for two “Remote Sensing Satellites.”