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US greenlights $650m sale of air-to-air missiles to Saudi Arabia

State Department approves first major arms sale to the kingdom since Biden took office, with the sale of 280 air-to-air missiles valued at up to $650m
The Pentagon said the missiles would support Saudi Arabia's Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets.
The Pentagon said the missiles would support Saudi Arabia's Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets (AFP/File photo)
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Washington

The Biden administration approved the sale of 280 AIM-120C air-to-air missiles to Saudi Arabia on Thursday, in a deal valued at potentially $650m, a State Department spokesperson told Middle East Eye.

If approved by Congress it would be the first major foreign military sale to Riyadh since US President Joe Biden took office.

"This proposed sale will support US foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that continues to be an important force for political and economic progress in the Middle East," the Pentagon said in a press release.

A State Department spokesperson told MEE that the Pentagon sent the formal notification to Congress on Thursday, and the sale was meant to "replenish Saudi Arabia's existing inventory of air-to-air missiles".

The spokesperson added that the sale comes as Washington has "seen an increase in cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia over the past year".

"We are moving forward with notifying Congress of this proposed sale to replenish Saudi Arabia's existing inventory in keeping with the President's commitment to support the territorial defense of Saudi Arabia."

In addition to the 280 AIM-120c Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM), the deal would include the sale of 596 missile launchers, as well as equipment for support and repairs. The Pentagon said the missiles would support Saudi Arabia's Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets.

It is unclear whether Congress will move to block the sale, though US lawmakers have previously refused to approve many military sales to the kingdom without assurances US equipment would not be used to kill civilians.

Marianne Williamson, a candidate in last year's presidential election, slammed the deal late on Thursday, saying it had "nothing to do with making the world a better place and everything to do with fueling our defense economy".

"America's economy should not be built around merchandising death," she wrote on Twitter.

In February, the Biden administration announced it would be ending support for offensive operations in the Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen, but maintained that it was committed to helping the kingdom defend its territorial sovereignty.

Former US president Donald Trump was heavily criticised by rights groups and US lawmakers for continuing to sell hundreds of millions of dollars of arms to Saudi Arabia following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Trump vetoed multiple attempts to block arms sales to the kingdom and end support for the war in Yemen, which has contributed to one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters.

Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia have also placed a focus on Washington's support for Riyadh. With US support, the kingdom's defence systems have also become adept at stopping most of the missiles, according to experts.