US continuing to work with Saudis on arms deal


The United States is working closely with Saudi Arabia on a possible arms sale worth close to $30 billion that includes 84 Boeing Co F-15 fighter jets, said US government officials familiar with the plan.

The arms sale package, still subject to congressional approval, would include dozens of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters built by Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp, missile defence equipment and ships.
“Those are all work in progress,” Navy Vice Admiral Jeffrey Wieringa, director of the Pentagon’s Defence Security Cooperation Agency, told Reuters in an interview at the Farnborough Airshow. “We’ll just continue to move forward.”

Wieringa, who oversees foreign arms sales, said he could not give any timetable for completion of the deal, given recent appointments of new air force and navy chiefs in Saudi Arabia.
“They may have different defence visions and I need to be respectful of the new leaders,” said Wieringa, who is due to retire at the end of the month. “It’s important for us to work together.”

Boeing declined comment. No comment was immediately available from United Technologies. The arms sale would also likely include new coastal warships.

The US Navy is expected to pick the winning designs for the new warships in mid-August. Lockheed Martin Corp and the US unit of Australia’s Austal are competing for the deal, valued at well over US $5 billion.

Defence industry executives at the air show outside London have said they saw strong interest in US weapons from cash-rich Gulf nations this week.

They say the Obama administration has taken strong steps to encourage arms sales to US allies given its interest in promoting security cooperation.

US officials say Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are worried about Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons.

In the interview with Reuters, conducted on Monday, Wieringa said the phrase “security cooperation” was mentioned 22 times in the US quadrennial defence review completed earlier this year, versus five times in the previous defence review.

He said he was receiving strong support from senior Pentagon leaders for arms sales around the world, and in this case, from the military services as well.

Once the United States and Saudi Arabia reach agreement on a deal, the Pentagon will conduct discussions with congressional aides to ensure the support of US lawmakers and address any concerns.

Then, Wieringa’s agency would send a formal notification to Congress, giving lawmakers 30 days to object to the deal. Generally, notifications are not sent unless lawmakers have already generally agreed to the sale.

Saudi Arabia was the biggest buyer of U.S. weapons during a four-year span of 2005 through 2008, with $11.2 billion in deals, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service.