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Sunday June 23, 2024

US expected to lift ban on sale of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia, FT reports

By Reuters
May 27, 2024
US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ictured during the “GCC+3” (Gulf Cooperation Council) meeting in Jeddah. — Reuters/File
US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ictured during the “GCC+3” (Gulf Cooperation Council) meeting in Jeddah. — Reuters/File

WASHINGTON: The United States is expected to lift a ban on the sale of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia, potentially in the coming weeks, the Financial Times reported on Sunday.

Washington has already signaled to Saudi Arabia that it was prepared to lift the ban, the newspaper reported, citing a person familiar with the matter.

Soon after taking office in 2021, Biden adopted a tougher stance over Saudi Arabia’s campaign against the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen, which has inflicted heavy civilian casualties, and over Riyadh’s human rights record, in particular the 2018 killing of Washington Post journalist and political opponent Jamal Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabia, the biggest US arms customer, has chafed under those restrictions, which froze the kind of weapons sales that previous US administrations had provided for decades.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday said the US and Saudi Arabia were very close to concluding a set of agreements on nuclear energy, security and defense cooperation, the bilateral component of a wider normalisation deal with Riyadh and Israel.

However, lifting the ban on offensive weapons sales were not directly linked to these talks, FT said.

The White House and Saudi Arabia’s government communication office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Saudi Arabia and the Houthis are working to cement a peace deal that would formalize a truce in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a coalition partner in the war, had carried out airstrikes with American-made munitions and American military assistance that resulted in mass civilian deaths and ignited international condemnation.

A UN investigation that examined whether the two countries may have committed war crimes found that coalition forces tortured detainees and used child soldiers, among other actions.

In recent weeks, Saudi officials have pressed US lawmakers and presidential aides to ease the ban on sales of offensive weapons, according to US and Saudi officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential conversations.

Their rationale, said both sets of officials: that Saudi Arabia needs to protect its southern border with Yemen in case of future clashes. In addition, the kingdom has argued that it must be prepared to handle escalating tensions in its region, the officials added, as the Israel-Gaza war rages.