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Trump administration inflated Saudi arms deal figures: Report

Jared Kushner pushed officials from the Pentagon and State Department to exaggerate the numbers, ABC News reports
Trump has said the sales would create up to a million jobs in the US (Reuters/File photo)

In justifying his backing for Saudi leaders despite the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, US President Donald Trump has repeatedly stressed the kingdom's arms deals - worth billions of dollars - with the United States.

But the figures in a $110-billion agreement touted by the White House have been inflated by the administration, ABC News reported on Monday, citing current and former US officials.

Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser who had developed a strong personal rapport with Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, pushed officials from the Pentagon and Department of State to exaggerate the numbers, according to ABC.

The memorandum of understanding for the sales, which had been presented as a great accomplishment by the administration, has little legal value, ABC News, which has seen the document, reported.

Moreover, there has been "minimal activity" to fulfil the promised purchases.

"This document does not create any authority to perform any work, award any contract, 'issue articles from stock', transfer funds, or otherwise obligate or create a binding commitment in any way either for the United States or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," the document states.

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Trump's critics have long questioned the White House's figures regarding Saudi arms deals.

"Whatever objections people may have to our turning a blind eye to Khashoggi’s assassination, the president argued, they do not outweigh the (grossly inflated) revenue we can expect from U.S.-Saudi arms deals," Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan wrote in a column last week.

Trump had come to the defence of bin Salman in the Khashoggi crisis, countering the CIA's conclusion that the crown prince had ordered the murder of Khashoggi.

Khashoggi, who regularly wrote columns for the Washington Post, was killed by Saudi government agents at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October. His body has yet to be found.

"Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!" Trump said in a written statement last week.

"That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," he said.

Trump had argued that a "record amount of money" from selling weapons to the Saudi government "will create hundreds of thousands of jobs" in the US.

Analysts have questioned the number of potential jobs that the administration says the arms deals would create. Trump has cited different numbers over the past year, ranging from 450,000 to 1 million jobs.

However, a 2017 White House statement said the purchases would support "tens of thousands of new jobs in the United States".

Amid growing bipartisan dissatisfaction in Congress with the White House's handling of the Khashoggi crisis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis will brief Senators on Wednesday about the latest developments in the case, Republican Senator John Cornyn told reporters on Monday.