Trump visits Saudi Arabia in first official foreign trip amid Yemen & human rights controversies

Adam BaderLast Update : Saturday 20 May 2017 - 3:05 PM
Trump visits Saudi Arabia in first official foreign trip amid Yemen & human rights controversies

Arms deals worth $100 billion are reportedly on the table in President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, his first stop overseas as president. Concerns have been raised, given the Saudi role in the Yemen conflict and the country’s human rights record.

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Trump to visit Saudi Arabia, Israel & Vatican in first overseas presidential trip

Donald Trump is the first American president to make Saudi Arabia, or any majority Muslim country, his first stop overseas as president. The nine-day trip will also include Israel, the Palestinian territories, Brussels, the Vatican, and Sicily.

“I think it is striking that the president during his campaign made it—made it pretty clear that he’d like to get out of these wars in the broader Middle East, but—and pay attention to nation-building at home while his first stop is the Middle East, his first foreign trip is the Middle East,” Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) said on Monday.

“Previous presidents have gone to Canada or Mexico first since Jimmy Carter, everyone since Jimmy Carter, Canada or Mexico. Carter went to Europe first. So, this is—this is a first, to put the Middle East on the top of the agenda and make it the first trip,” he added.

King of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud announced on Saturday that Trump’s visit to the kingdom would boost ties between the two countries and help step up global security.

On Saturday, Trump and the king are expected to participate in a signing ceremony for a number of US-Saudi agreements, reportedly including a $100 billion deal for Saudi Arabia to buy US arms, Reuters reported.

Oil giant Saudi Aramco is expected to conclude $50 billion in deals with US companies on Saturday, Aramco Chief Executive Amin Nasser told reporters in Riyadh.

A senior White House official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity one week ahead of Trump’s visit to Riyadh, told the agency that the arms package could end up surpassing $300 billion over one decade to help Saudi Arabia enhance its defensive capabilities, while still maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors.

“We are in the final stages of a series of deals,” the official said.

Sources told Reuters earlier this month that the arms package includes a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system from Lockheed Martin, similar to the one being made operational in South Korea, which costs around $1 billion.

The countries have also been negotiating over a C2BMC software system and a package of satellite capabilities, also provided by Lockheed. The Bradley Fighting Vehicle and M109 artillery vehicle manufactured by BAE Systems PLC could also be included in the package, sources told Reuters.

There is reportedly more than $1 billion worth of munitions, including armor-piercing Penetrator Warheads and Paveway laser-guided bombs made by Raytheon.

The US has been the main supplier for most Saudi military needs, from F-15 fighter jets to command and control systems.

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The US delivered major weapons to at least 100 states in 2012–16, a significantly higher number of export destinations than any other supplier, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said in February, noting that Saudi Arabia proved to be the largest recipient, accounting for 13 percent of US arms exports.

“The flow of weapons to Saudi Arabia from the USA is likely to remain high due to deliveries of 154 F-15SA combat aircraft, which began in 2016. This is despite calls in the US Congress during 2016 for restrictions on arms supplies to Saudi Arabia in response to Saudi military operations in Yemen, many causing civilian casualties,” the report said.

Riyadh said there was “a historic turning point” in bilateral relations after President Trump welcomed Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud to the White House in March.

“Relations had undergone a period of difference of opinion,” a senior adviser to the crown prince said in a statement after the meeting, as cited by Bloomberg.

“[The] meeting has put things on the right track, and marked a significant shift in relations, across all political, military, security and economic fields. All of this is due to President Trump’s great understanding of the importance of relations between the two countries and his clear sight of problems in the region.”

The White House said in a statement that Trump “provided his support for developing a new United States-Saudi program, undertaken by joint US-Saudi working groups, and its unique initiatives in energy, industry, infrastructure, and technology worth potentially more than $200 billion in direct and indirect investments within the next four years.”

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2017-05-20 2017-05-20
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Adam Bader