Trump inks huge $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia
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Trump inks huge $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia

Mammoth defense agreement a 'significant expansion' of US-Riyadh ties, will boost kingdom's security against Iran threats, says White House official

US President Donald Trump, center left, walks with Saudi King Salman, center right, during a welcome ceremony at the Royal Terminal of King Khalid International Airport, Saturday, May 20, 2017, in Riyadh. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Donald Trump, center left, walks with Saudi King Salman, center right, during a welcome ceremony at the Royal Terminal of King Khalid International Airport, Saturday, May 20, 2017, in Riyadh. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — US President Donald Trump attended a signing ceremony with Saudi Arabia’s leadership on Saturday to cement a number of defense and business agreements, including a much-vaunted arms deal worth some $110 billion.

“This package of defense equipment and services support the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian threats,” a White House official said.

It will also bolster the kingdom’s “ability to contribute to counter-terrorism operations across the region, reducing the burden on the US military to conduct those operations,” the official added.

The two countries will also sign a defense cooperation agreement and private sector agreements Saturday which are intended to create tens of thousands of new jobs in the US defense industry.

US President Donald Trump, left, and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud take part in a signing ceremony at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh on May 20, 2017. ( AFP / MANDEL NGAN)
US President Donald Trump, left, and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud take part in a signing ceremony at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh on May 20, 2017. ( AFP / MANDEL NGAN)

“The two countries signed a series of agreements,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters later at a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

He said the “total value of investments… (is) in excess of $380 billion”, including by Saudi Arabia in American infrastructure, and US investment in developing the kingdom’s defense industry. “We expect that these investments over the next 10 years or so will provide hundreds of thousands of jobs in both the United States and in Saudi Arabia,” Jubeir said.

Tillerson clarified that almost a third of the total figure is military-related.

In announcing the deal earlier this month, a White House official said Israel would still maintain its qualitative edge in the Middle East.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attended the signing ceremony Saturday and will hold a press briefing later in the say

The White House official described the agreements as “a significant expansion of the over seven-decade-long security relationship between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Saudi Arabia is already one of the largest customers of US arms.

The State Department said the wide-ranging deal would cover five specific areas, including border security and counterterrorism, maritime and coastal security, air force modernization, air and missile defense, and cybersecurity and communications upgrades.

“Included are offers of extensive training and support to strengthen our partnership and the Saudi armed forces.”

The package includes tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers, and helicopters. On the naval side there are “Multi-Mission Surface Combatant ships, helicopters, patrol boats, and associated weapons systems.”

The release said that it would also include Patriot and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system (THAAD), which was recently deployed by the US in South Korea to defend against the threat of North Korean missiles.

According to reports earlier this month, the proposed weapons contracts include the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and the M109 artillery piece, as well as the Littoral Combat Ship and some $1 billion-worth of munitions, including armor-piercing warheads and laser-guided bombs, Reuters reported at the time.

A Royal Saudi Air Force F-15 fighter jet, illustrative (Photo credit: YouTube screen capture)
A Royal Saudi Air Force F-15 fighter jet, illustrative (Photo credit: YouTube screen capture)

A preliminary deal worth $6 billion to assemble 150 Lockheed Martin Blackhawk helicopters in Saudi Arabia was separately announced at the Saudi-US CEO Forum held in Riyadh during Trump’s visit.

The programme to “support the final assembly and completion of an estimated 150 S-70 Black Hawk utility helicopters” will support around 450 jobs in the kingdom, said a forum statement.

US defence contractors are major suppliers of weapons to Saudi Arabia, which for more than two years has led a coalition conducting air strikes and other operations against rebels in Yemen.

The new deals come despite mounting pressure on Washington from rights groups to stop arms sales to Riyadh, which has come under repeated criticism over civilian casualties in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia on Thursday announced the creation of a new military industries firm as part of the kingdom’s efforts to boost defence production.

The kingdom’s Public Investment Fund said the new government-owned company, Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI), “aims to become one of the world’s top 25 defence companies by 2030.”

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said in an April report that Saudi Arabia last year was the world’s fourth-largest military spender, spending $63.7 billion.

The arms sale agreements were just a few of a series of deals announced during the visit, with US conglomerate General Electric saying it had also signed agreements and memorandums of understanding worth $15 billion.

Trump held talks with Saudi King Salman and was to meet the kingdom’s two powerful crown princes on Saturday, before giving a speech on Islam to leaders of Muslim countries on Sunday.

For Riyadh, the visit is an opportunity to rebuild ties with a key ally, strained under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama who Sunni Arab Gulf states suspected of a tilt towards their Shiite regional rival Iran.

A more muted focus on human rights should also please Washington’s traditional Sunni Gulf allies, analysts say.

Shortly after arriving Trump took to Twitter to express his delight at being in the kingdom.

“Great to be in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Looking forward to the afternoon and evening ahead,” Trump wrote.

Trump wants Gulf states in particular to do more to tackle extremists such as the Islamic State jihadist group.

In return he is expected to take a harder line on Iran, where it was announced Saturday that President Hassan Rouhani had won a resounding re-election victory as voters overwhelmingly backed his efforts to reach out to the world.

Before departing, Trump tweeted he would be “strongly protecting American interests” during the trip, which will also include visits to Israel and Europe.

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