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Washington mulls suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia: report

Joe Biden's administration is looking to halt arms deals with Saudi Arabia [Getty]

Date of publication: 27 February, 2021

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US may only sell defensive weapons to Saudi Arabia, which has been criticised for alleged human rights abuses in Yemen.
US President Joe Biden's administration is looking to halt arms deals with Saudi Arabia and to limit arms sales to "defensive" weapons only, following concerns over human rights, a report by Reuters revealed on Friday. 

Officials are reviewing the equipment and training included in recent arms deals with the kingdom, in a bid to suspend the sales of offensive weapons and only permit the sales of defensive products, four sources told Reuters.

Sales of weapons considered defensive, such as Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile defence systems made by Lockheed Martin or Patriot missile defence systems made by Lockheed and Raytheon - would still be allowed under the new policy, the report said.

The sales of products such as precision-guided munitions (PGM) and small-diameter bombs, which had been brokered under Donald Trump’s administration, may however be suspended.

The weapons reviews will also affect a $23 billion agreement with the UAE – another important US partner in the region.

On his last day in office, Trump had signed arms deals with the UAE, which included the sale of up to 50 F-35 jets, 18 armed drones and other weapons, under the pretext that the UAE will use the weapons to deter Iranian "threats".

The report comes after Washington paused half a billion dollars in arms deals with Riyadh earlier this year over concerns of civilian casualties in the Saudi-led war on Yemen.

"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 State Department spokesperson said, adding that Biden has vowed to end US military support for the Saudi-led military campaign against Yemeni rebels.

After Biden took office earlier this year, his team has worked to recalibrate its relationship with Saudi Arabia – a key US ally, with which Washington has serious human rights concerns. 

"They're trying to figure out where do you draw the lines between offensive weapons and defensive stuff," Reuters reported, citing a congressional aide familiar with the issue, describing the process.

The Biden administration released on Friday a sensitive US intelligence report on the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a US resident who wrote for The Washington Post.

The report found that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de factor ruler, approved the killing.

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