Awkward Biden trip to Saudi Arabia followed by $4b sale of US missiles

US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a summit in Jeddah, on July 16, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The United States announced Tuesday (Aug 2) it had approved the potential sale of additional Patriot missiles and related equipment to Saudi Arabia in a deal valued at as much as US$3.05 billion (S$4.21 billion), just weeks after an awkward meeting between President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The encounter came to be symbolised by Mr Biden's fist-bump with a leader whose kingdom he once labelled a global "pariah" and hoped to marginalise after the killing of columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

It underscored the president's calculus to bring home relief from high petrol prices and to reaffirm the US role in the Middle East.

But Mr Biden departed Saudi Arabia last month without a firm commitment for an increase in oil production that could ease pain at the petrol pump, saying only that based on his conversations he expects "further steps in the coming weeks".

The weapons sale, which is subject to congressional approval and then negotiations with contractors, comes after the White House pledged renewed cooperation with Saudi Arabia on integrated air defence, including "far-reaching foreign military sales cases with emphasis on defensive systems and advanced technology".

Saudi Arabia asked to buy 300 Patriot guidance-enhanced missiles, known as GEM-T, made by Raytheon Technologies. Also included in the package are tools, test equipment, spare parts and logistics support for the tactical ballistic missiles.

"These missiles are used to defend the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's borders against persistent Houthi cross-border unmanned aerial system and ballistic missile attacks on civilian sites and critical infrastructure in Saudi Arabia," the US State Department said in a statement.

The US also announced the potential sale to the United Arab Emirates of additional Terminal High Altitude Area Defence, or THAAD, system missiles, THAAD fire control and communication stations, and related equipment for an estimated cost of US$2.25 billion. Lockheed Martin is the main contractor for THAAD.

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