2017 United States–Saudi Arabia arms deal
On May 20, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud signed a series of letters of intent for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to purchase arms from the United States totaling US$110 billion immediately, and $350 billion over 10 years. The intended purchases include tanks, combat ships, missile defense systems, as well as radar, communications and cybersecurity technology. The transfer was widely seen as a counterbalance against the influence of Iran in the region and a "significant" and "historic" expansion of United States relations with Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is a key U.S. ally in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia's security forces have relied on U.S. equipment, training, and service support for decades, officially as a counterbalance to Iranian military influence in the region, and to help protect the Kingdom from extremist attacks. Between 2011 and 2015, Saudi Arabia was the destination for nearly 10% of all U.S. arms exports. In 2016, the Obama administration proposed a series of arms deals worth $115 billion, including warships, helicopters, and maintenance. However, some parts of this deal were blocked by the administration in December 2016 after Saudi Arabia's airstrikes and targeting procedures in neighboring Yemen drew controversy. After Saudi warplanes targeted a funeral in Yemen's capital Sanaa, killing more than 140 people, the Obama administration announced its intention to review U.S. military assistance to Saudi Arabia.
The 2017 deal was partially created with the help of Jared Kushner, son-in-law of and senior advisor to President Trump; Kushner had cultivated relationships with Saudi royalty during the transition and personally contacted Lockheed Martin during the deal-making process.
The signing occurred at the Riyadh Summit, and was part of Trump's 2017 series of visits to the Vatican, Saudi Arabia and Israel. It also was related to a $20 billion investment in mostly American infrastructure.
Saudi Arabia signed billions of dollars of deals with U.S. companies in the arms industry and petroleum industry, including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, General Electric, Exxon Mobil, Halliburton, Honeywell, McDermott International, Jacobs Engineering Group, National Oilwell Varco, Nabors Industries, Weatherford International, Schlumberger and Dow Chemical.
American and Saudi Arabian government statements
The White House hailed the deal as a "significant expansion" of the two nations' "security relationships". The United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described the deal as "historic" and said that it would counter Iran, and urged them to halt support of destabilizing forces in the Middle East, although he hinted the United States would be open to discussions.
In December 2018, the Senators in the US voted to end American military assistance for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. The 56-to-41 vote came after the controversial killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and thousands of civilian casualties in Yemen. Senator Bernie Sanders, who co-wrote the resolution, said it is the first time Congress had used the law to make clear “that the constitutional responsibility for making war rests with the United States Congress, not the White House. Today, we tell the despotic regime in Saudi Arabia that we will not be part of their military adventurism.”
Tulsi Gabbard—a Democratic Representative from Hawaii—criticized the move, saying that "Saudi Arabia is a country with a devastating record of human rights violations at home and abroad and has a long history of providing support to terrorist organizations that threaten the American people". Rand Paul introduced a bill to try to block the plan calling it a "travesty".
Senator John McCain told Al Jazeera: "The Saudis are in a war in Yemen and they need weapons. You want to win, you need weapons. We are in a war." According to Senator Chris Murphy, "That $110 billion is a mix of old sales and future prospective sales that have not been announced or signed."
Israel – Yuval Steinitz, Minister of National Infrastructures, Energy, and Water Resources, expressed "concern".
On June 5, 2017, Bruce Reidel of the Brookings Institute wrote that the arms deal consisted of "a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but not contracts." On June 13, the United States Senate narrowly rejected an effort to block part of deal and approved the sale of $500 million worth of American weapons. The approval of the deal was opposed by various lawmakers, including GOP Senators Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Todd Young and Dean Heller, along with most Democrat Senators who voted to advance the measure in order to block the sale, citing the human rights violations by Saudi Arabia in the Yemeni Civil War and human rights violations at home. Among the senators who voted against moving the measure to block the sale were Democratics Joe Donnelly, Claire McCaskill, Bill Nelson, Joe Manchin and Mark Warner along with Republicans including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Bob Corker and John McCain.
In August 2018, a laser-guided Mark 82 bomb sold by the U.S. and built by Lockheed Martin was used in the Saudi-led coalition airstrike on a school bus in Yemen, which killed 51 people, including 40 children. Following the civilian casualties in Yemen by the airstrikes conducted by Saudi Arabia, the U.S. suggested putting gun cameras on Saudi and Emirati warplanes to see how strikes were being conducted, but the proposal was rejected by both the Saudis and the UAE. U.S. military officials posted at the coalition war room in Riyadh brought to notice that inexperienced Saudi pilots were flying the warplanes at high altitude to avoid enemy fire, but in turn were putting civilians in danger due to inaccurate bombings.
Through October 2018, the Saudi government had purchased $14.5 billion of arms.
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