US agrees massive arms deal with Saudi Arabia

US President Donald Trump is in the Middle East today beginning his first foreign trip since he took office

US agrees massive arms deal with Saudi Arabia

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive in Saudi Arabia, 20-05-2017. Image: Evan Vucci/AP/Press Association Images

The US has agreed the “largest single arms deal in American history” with Saudi Arabia, according to a White House official.

It comes as US President Donald Trump arrives in the Middle East for his first foreign trip since he took office.

This afternoon, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud presented Mr Trump with the kingdom's top civilian honour during a meeting at the royal court in Riyadh.

The nine-day foreign tour will see the US president holding a series of meetings with Arab leaders today and tomorrow - before travelling on to Israel, Palestine, the Vatican, Belgium and Italy.

In Riyadh he will address a summit of more than 50 Arab leaders to discuss the fight against terrorism globally.

The Associated Press reports that Mr Trump’s speech will avoid the tough anti-Muslim rhetoric that underpinned his presidential campaign.

He is expected to call for unity in the battle against “radicalism” and characterise the fight as a “battle between good and evil.”

Arms deal

The news agency reports that the massive arms deal – reported to be worth almost $110bn (€98.15bn) – will include Abrams tanks, combat ships, missile defence systems, radar and communications and cyber security technology.

“This package of defence equipment and services support the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian threats,” A White House official said.

It will also bolster the kingdom’s “ability to contribute to counter-terrorism operations across the region, reducing the burden on the US military to conduct those operations,” the official added.

Brutal civil war

While much of the deal is built on commitments made by the previous administration – certain weapons have reportedly been added to aid the ongoing air campaign in war-torn Yemen.

Fighting between government forces - backed by a Saudi-led coalition of Gulf States - and Houthi rebels in Yemen has left the country on the brink of famine with thousands dead.

The kingdom has been sharply criticised by human rights organisations and international aid agencies for the devastation caused by the airstrikes it is continuing to carry out in the region - contributing to the humanitarian crisis in the country.

As President Trump embarked on his trip, Amnesty International warned that the “glaring absence of human rights” from his agenda will only encourage further violations of international humanitarian law.

“Human rights are under continuous attack in the Gulf,” said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA.

“Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have been using counter terrorism as an excuse to ruthlessly crush and persecute critics, peaceful dissidents and human rights defenders.”

“Even as families are killed inside their houses and internationally banned weapons are used by the Saudi led coalition in Yemen, the Trump administration is planning a multi-billion dollar arms deals with Saudi Arabia.

“This brazen disregard for human rights and humanitarian law will only serve to further embolden states in the Gulf and around the globe in their pursuit of ‘security’ at the expense of people’s basic rights.”

Trade deals

In addition to the arms deal, US and Saudi Arabian businesses have signed a range of new deals worth tens of billions of dollars.

The Saudi Arabian energy minister Khalid al-Falih said the deals involving totalled over $200 billion - many of them designed to produce things in Saudi Arabia that had previously been imported.