The Obama administration on Thursday hailed a new $30 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia as both a hedge against Iranian aggression in the Persian Gulf and an economic windfall that could create thousands of U.S. jobs over the next decade.
The agreement to sell 84 top-of-the line F-15SA fighter jets to the Saudi air force also provided a needed boost to U.S. relations with the oil-rich kingdom after months of strain over the White House’s response to the Arab Spring uprisings, US officials and West Asia analysts said.
The deal, which was finalized after more than a year of negotiations, was announced during a week of increased tensions with Iran, which has renewed its threat to block ship traffic through the Strait of Hormuz in response to international economic sanctions. The administration has pursued a policy of supplying advanced weapons systems to friendly Arab states to keep Iran’s regional ambitions in check.
“This sale will send a strong message to countries in the region that the US is committed to stability in the gulf and broader West Asia,” Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, told reporters.
The deal — outlines of which were disclosed to Congress last year — also calls for refurbishing 70 F-15s currently in Saudi Arabia’s fighter fleet, as well as providing munitions, spare parts and training for Saudi pilots and air crews.
The deal comes at a time when the Pentagon is considering supplying “bunker-buster” bombs and other munitions to another key gulf ally, the United Arab Emirates.
US officials said the timing of the announcement was unrelated to Iran’s recent provocations.
“Clearly, one of the threats that [the Saudis] — that they face, as well as other countries in the region — is Iran,” Shapiro said. “But .?.?. this is not solely directed toward Iran. This is directed toward meeting our partner Saudi Arabia’s defense needs.”
US officials also touted the deal’s impact at home, saying the production of the Boeing-built F-15s would support 50,000 American jobs.
The Washington Post