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White House notifies Congress of planned $1b weapons sale to Morocco

Potential deal includes four MQ-9B drones, precision-guided munitions, Reuters reports; notice comes day after US-brokered normalization deal between Jerusalem, Rabat

A US military MQ-9B Reaper drone at a US Army testing site, Yuma, Arizona, November 7, 2019. (US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Colton Brownlee)
A US military MQ-9B Reaper drone at a US Army testing site, Yuma, Arizona, November 7, 2019. (US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Colton Brownlee)

The White House notified Congress on Friday of potential weapons sales to Morocco worth $1 billion, a day after announcing the Trump-brokered normalization agreement between Jerusalem and Rabat.

The deal includes four MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones and precision-guided munitions, the Reuters news agency reported, citing “sources familiar with the notification.”

The weapons sale can be blocked by Congress, but lawmakers are not expected to prevent the deal from going through, two sources said.

On Thursday, Reuters said the US was on the verge of reaching an agreement with Morocco on the drone sale. Three sources with knowledge of the negotiations did not indicate whether the sale was directly tied to the normalization announcement.

Some of the other weapons included in the deal are Hellfire, Paveway and JDAM precision-guided munitions, the report said.

A Hellfire missile set to be fired from a US helicopter at an ordnance range inTwentynine Palms, California, February 24, 2016. (US Navy Combat Camera/US Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Arthurgwain L. Marquez)

The US State Department has authorized the sale of the drones, but it was unclear whether Washington would allow them to be exported with weapons attached.

On Thursday, US President Donald Trump announced via Twitter that Morocco had decided to normalize ties with Israel after the US agreed to recognize Rabat’s sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara. Morocco becomes the fourth country to take such a step in four months, following the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

The timing of the drone sale to Morocco was noticeably similar to that of the $23 billion US arms sale to the UAE after Abu Dhabi signed a US-brokered normalization deal with Israel in September. Within days, reports began emerging of negotiations for the UAE’s purchase of F-35 advanced fighter jets and Reaper drones. Less than two months later, the Trump administration formally notified Congress of its planned weapons sale to Abu Dhabi.

On the record, the three countries have insisted that the arms deal was not part of negotiations that brought about the so-called Abraham Accords.

But Trump officials have acknowledged that the agreement put the UAE in a better position to receive such advanced weaponry, and a source with direct knowledge of the talks told The Times of Israel that both the US and Israel knew that the arms deal was “very much part of the deal.”

Morocco is seen to have negotiated a major diplomatic win out of the US as part of the normalization deal in convincing Washington to recognize Rabat’s sovereignty over Western Sahara.

The US is also considering investing up to $3 billion in Moroccan institutions following the deal, The New York Times reported Thursday. A senior Trump administration official cited by the report said it was not linked to the Israel normalization agreement.

The developments are in line with the Trump administration’s apparent transactional approach to regional peacemaking. In addition to the UAE weapons deal, Sudan said it agreed to ties with Israel in exchange for removal from the US terror blacklist, badly needed aid and access to global financial institutions. Sudan confirmed in October the linkage between the agreement to normalize and the benefits provided by the US, after initially denying it.

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