US President Joe Biden’s administration is considering the cancelation of arms deals with Saudi Arabia that pose human rights concerns while limiting military sales to “defensive” weapons, as it reassesses it relationship with the kingdom.
Four sources familiar with the US administration’s thinking said that after pausing US$500 million in arms deals with Saudi Arabia out of concern over casualties in Yemen earlier this year, officials are assessing the equipment and training included in recent sales to determine what can be considered defensive.
Those deals would be allowed.
“Our focus is on ending the conflict in Yemen even as we ensure Saudi Arabia has everything it needs to defend its territory and its people,” a US Department of State spokesperson said, adding that Biden has pledged to end US military support for the military campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The Biden administration is recalibrating its relationship with Saudi Arabia, a country with which it has severe human rights concerns, but which is also one of Washington’s closest US allies in countering the threat posed by Iran.
“They’re trying to figure out where do you draw the lines between offensive weapons and defensive stuff,” one congressional aide familiar with the issue said, describing the process.
Sales of products deemed defensive — such as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-ballistic missile defense systems made by Lockheed Martin or Patriot missile defense systems made by Lockheed and Raytheon — would still be allowed under such new policy.
However, it would end big-ticket deals — for products such as precision-guided munitions and small-diameter bombs — like those brokered under former US president Donald Trump in the face of strong objections from members of the US Congress.
After he lost the US presidential election on Nov. 3 last year, Trump’s State Department kept approving weapons sales that could be considered offensive.
The weapons review also affects deals with the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
On Jan. 20, the day that Trump left office and Biden became president, the UAE signed agreements with the outgoing administration to buy up to 50 F-35 jets, 18 armed drones and other defense equipment in a deal worth US$23 billion.
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