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Saudi Arabia gets first major arms deal under Biden administration

Saudi Arabia arms

The U.S. State Department approved its first major arms sale to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia under U.S. President Joe Biden with the sale of 280 air-to-air missiles valued at up to $650 million, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

The package would include 280 AIM-120C-7/C-8 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM), 596 LAU-128 Missile Rail Launchers (MRL) along with containers and support equipment, spare parts, U.S. Government and contractor engineering and technical support.

Despite approval by the State Department, the notification did not indicate that a contract has been signed or that negotiations have concluded.

Although Saudi Arabia is an important partner in the Middle East, U.S. lawmakers have criticized Riyadh for its involvement in the war in Yemen, which is considered one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.

Representatives have refused to approve many military sales for the Saudi Arabia without assurances that U.S. equipment would not be used in killing civilians.

The Pentagon notified Congress of the deal on Thursday.

If approved, the deal would be the first sale to Saudi Arabia since the Biden administration adopted a policy of selling only defensive arms to the Gulf ally.

The State Department approved the sale on October 26, a spokesperson said, adding that the air-to-air missile sale comes after “an increase in cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia over the past year.”

Raytheon Technologies makes the missiles.

The sale “is fully consistent with the administration’s pledge to lead with diplomacy to end the conflict in Yemen,” the State Department spokesperson said in a statement.

The air-to-air missiles ensure “Saudi Arabia has the means to defend itself from Iranian-backed Houthi air attacks,” he said.

After the Trump administration’s friendly relationship with Riyadh, the Biden administration reformed its approach to Saudi Arabia due to its severe human rights concerns but also one of Washington’s closest U.S. allies in countering the threat posed by Iran.

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