The United States and Saudi Arabia are said to be in the “final stages” of negotiating a series of arms deals ahead of US President Donald Trump’s visit to Riyadh next weekend.
A senior White House official told Reuters over the weekend that the arms package totaling over $300 billion was designed to boost Riyadh’s defense capabilities while maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East.
“We are in the final stages of a series of deals,” the unnamed official told the agency Friday. “It’s good for the American economy but it will also be good in terms of building a capability that is appropriate for the challenges of the region.
“Israel would still maintain an edge,” the official added.
Trump is due to leave for Saudi Arabia on May 19 as part of his first foreign trip since becoming president, after which he will visit Israel. He is also set to travel to the Vatican, as well as NATO and G7 summits in Brussels and Sicily.
The proposed weapons contracts are said to include the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system (THAAD), which costs $1 billion and was recently deployed by the US in South Korea to defend against the threat of North Korean missiles.
Also being discussed as part of the package are the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and the M109 artillery piece, as well as the Littoral Combat Ship, according to Reuters.
In addition, some $1 billion-worth of munitions are said to be part of the deal, including armor-piercing warheads and laser-guided bombs.
A weapons deal of this magnitude would need the approval of Congress, which is legally required to ensure that any potential weapons sales do not erode Israel’s qualitative military edge.
A number of US lawmakers have previously objected to weapons deals with Saudi Arabia over concerns of the kingdom’s involvement in Yemen’s civil war, although proponents say they are necessary to act as a deterrent against Iran and to combat the Islamic State terror group.
Last week Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir met in Washington with top US lawmakers and officials, including US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Members of the Saudi contingent also held meetings with White House officials on Monday and Tuesday to lay the groundwork for Trump’s visit, during which they also discussed the proposed arms sales and cracking down on terror financing, according to Reuters.
The US has long been the main military backer of Saudi Arabia, ever since US president Franklin Roosevelt promised to guarantee the country’s security in exchange for access to the kingdom’s abundant oil reserves during a 1945 meeting with Ibn Saud, the founder of the modern Saudi state.
During the Israel leg of his Mideast trip, Trump will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, as well as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Trump is expected to use the visit to advance his goal of mediating negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
AP contributed to this report.