US finalizing $100bn weapons sale to Saudi Arabia: White House official

(AhlulBayt News Agency) - The United States is close to completing a series of arms deals for Saudi Arabia totaling more than $100 billion, a senior White House official said on Friday, a week ahead of President Donald Trump's planned visit to Riyadh.

The official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the arms package could end up surpassing more than $300 billion over a decade to help Saudi Arabia boost its defensive capabilities while still maintaining U.S. ally Israel's qualitative military edge over its neighbors.

"We are in the final stages of a series of deals," the official said. The package is being developed to coincide with Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia. Trump leaves for the kingdom on May 19, the first stop on his maiden international trip.

Reuters reported last week that Washington was pushing through contracts for tens of billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, some new, others already in the pipeline, ahead of Trump's visit.

The United States has been the main supplier for most Saudi military needs, from F-15 fighter jets to command and control systems worth tens of billions of dollars in recent years. Trump has vowed to stimulate the U.S. economy by boosting manufacturing jobs.

The package includes American arms and maintenance, ships, air missile defense and maritime security, the official said. "We'll see a very substantial commitment ... In many ways it is intended to build capabilities for the threats they face."

The official added: "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."

While in Riyadh, the official said Trump would attend three major events: A series of meeting with Saudi officials, a separate session with leaders of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council and a lunch with Arab and Muslim leaders, 56 of whom have been invited, to discuss combating extremism and cracking down on illicit financing.

Trump will discuss how to counter the threat from ISIS militants, the war in Yemen and threats of ballistic missiles and maritime shipping in the Red Sea, the official said.

Besides Saudi Arabia, Trump's first foreign trip will also include visits to Israel, the Vatican, Brussels for a NATO summit and Sicily for a Group of Seven summit.

The US has long been providing intelligence and arms support to Saudi Arabia in its two-year-long aggression against Yemen.

Washington has been under pressure to stop selling Riyadh new weapons.

However, US Defense Secretary James Mattis said during his last month trip to Saudi Arabia that the new US administration would do its best to “see a strong Saudi Arabia.”

The deals are the latest in a series of controversial arms sales by the Trump administration to governments with poor human rights records, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

The deals seem to be part of Trump’s plans to boost manufacturing jobs in the US, a pledge he made during his election campaign.



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