In Saudi Arabia

Saudis to ink $154b arms deal as Trump kicks off visit

Pact agreed on first day of US leader's inaugural visit to kingdom is largest between both countries

RIYADH • Saudi Arabia has agreed to buy US$110 billion (S$154 billion) worth of arms from the US, a welcome gift to President Donald Trump, who kicked off his visit to the kingdom yesterday.

The deal, with options running as high as US$350 billion over 10 years, was the central achievement of the first day of Mr Trump's visit and the largest ever between the two traditional allies. It is expected to be signed today.

Mr Trump yesterday held talks with Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz in Riyadh, the first stop on his inaugural foreign trip as he seeks to shift attention from a growing political firestorm in Washington.

Mr Trump was personally greeted by the Saudi monarch after he landed on Air Force One while jets flew overhead and left a trail of red, white and blue smoke.

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"I'm very happy to see you," King Salman said to Mr Trump, who responded that it was a "great honour" to be visiting the kingdom.

The 81-year-old Saudi king, walking with a cane, then led the President and First Lady into an airport reception room, where they spoke over coffee.

The elaborate welcome extended all the way to the Royal Palace, where Mr Trump was awarded Saudi Arabia's highest civilian honour.

Mr Trump's two-day visit will result in billions of dollars in business deals between the two countries.

Oil giant Saudi Aramco said it signed 16 accords with 11 companies valued at about US$50 billion. One initial deal - worth US$15 billion - was signed with US conglomerate General Electric across the power, healthcare, oil, gas and mining industries.

Mr Trump selected Saudi Arabia for the first leg of his journey after receiving assurances that the kingdom would make significant investments in the US, including buying hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of military equipment in the next decade, and US$40 billion from its sovereign wealth fund, a White House official said.

That includes a US$6 billion deal for Riyadh to buy four Littoral Combat Ships made by Lockheed Martin.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, speaking in Riyadh, said President Trump's trip will not be impacted by the headlines back home.

"I can't imagine another business day that has been as good for the United States or for the kingdom," he said.

Mr Trump's meeting with the king came ahead of a conference with leaders from across the Arab world today.

Saudi officials have told the White House that King Salman will publicly say it is the responsibility of leaders throughout the Middle East to defeat radical ideology in the region, according to an administration official.

Senior administration officials said they expected major diplomatic efforts such as Mr Trump's effort to ally the world's major religions against extremism to help push domestic controversies off the front pages.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters that the President's domestic troubles would not hamper his diplomacy.

"The people in the rest of the world do not have the time to pay attention to what's happening domestically," Mr Tillerson said.

After Saudi Arabia, Mr Trump will visit Israel before heading to the Vatican, where he will meet Pope Francis. He will then attend a Nato summit in Brussels to confer with top allies. He will conclude his trip with the annual Group of Seven meeting in Sicily.

Mr Trump expects his eight-day visit to the Middle East and Europe to turn the page politically, offering him a chance to demonstrate his singular brand of deal-making diplomacy.

BLOOMBERG, WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 21, 2017, with the headline 'Saudis to ink $154b arms deal as Trump kicks off visit'. Print Edition | Subscribe