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State Department greenlights sale of 3,000 precision-guided bombs to Saudis

$290 million weapons deal comes during Trump’s twilight days, even as successor Biden vows to pursue reset of relations with Riyadh to address human rights concerns

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Illustrative: GBU-39 SDB (Small Diameter Bomb) at the Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, on August 1 2006. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Lance Cheung via Wikipedia public domain)
Illustrative: GBU-39 SDB (Small Diameter Bomb) at the Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, on August 1 2006. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Lance Cheung via Wikipedia public domain)

The US State Department on Tuesday advanced the sale of 3,000 precision-guided glide bombs to Saudi Arabia, as the Trump administration seeks to continue inking such massive weapons deals with Riyadh before relations between the two countries are expected to reset under President-elect Joe Biden.

The $290-million deal will include 3,000 GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb I (SDB I) munitions, containers, support equipment, spares and technical support, Reuters cited the Pentagon as having announced.

“The proposed sale will improve Saudi Arabia’s capability to meet current and future threats by increasing its stocks of long-range, precision air-to-ground munitions,” the Pentagon said in a statement, adding that “the size and accuracy of the SDB I allows for an effective munition with less collateral damage.”

The Trump administration appears bent on using its final days to jam weapons deals through as Biden has pledged to cease such sales in order to pressure Riyadh to end its involvement in the Yemen civil war.

A Saudi woman walks past a car outside a hotel in the Saudi capital Riyadh, on September 28, 2017. (AFP/FAYEZ NURELDINE)

The Trump administration notified Congress of the intended sale on Tuesday. It is unclear whether there is still appetite for such weapons deals after Democrats last month nearly blocked a major sale to the UAE that included 50 F-35s. Relations with Saudi Arabia are even more strained than US ties to the UAE, which also played a role in the devastating Yemen bombing campaign.

The congressional notification came just one day after the State Department voiced concern over Saudi Arabia’s imposition of a prison sentence on prominent activist Loujain al-Hathloul.

“We’ve emphasized the importance of free expression and peaceful activism in Saudi Arabia as it advances women’s rights,” State Department deputy spokesman Cale Brown wrote on Twitter. “We look forward to her anticipated early release in 2021.”

Jake Sullivan, who will take over as national security adviser when Biden is sworn in on January 20, by contrast called the sentence “unjust and troubling.”

US President-elect Joe Biden’s national security adviser nominee Jake Sullivan speaks at The Queen theater, November 24, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

“As we have said, the Biden-Harris administration will stand up against human rights violations wherever they occur,” he tweeted.

US President Donald Trump is a close ally of Saudi Arabia who has hailed the oil-rich kingdom’s purchases of US weapons, shared hostility to Iran and recent gestures toward Israel.

Trump refrained from harsh action even after a US-based writer, Jamal Khashoggi, was killed and dismembered in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate following his critiques of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Amid outrage over Khashoggi’s death and Saudi Arabia’s devastating military campaign in Yemen, Biden during the campaign vowed a reevaluation of the relationship with the kingdom.

AFP contributed to this report

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