The Trump administration announced it will buy up to $350 billion in arms to counter Iranian threats to its nuclear program and a Saudi-led military alliance, but the sale comes amid growing concern that the Saudis are selling U.N. weapons to a new enemy.
The White House said Tuesday it will also sell up to 100 F-35 fighter jets to the kingdom, bringing the total amount of weapons sales to $2.4 billion.
In a statement, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said the president has asked Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to look into “how the United States could work with Saudi Arabia to prevent a potential conflict with Iran.”
Sanders did not say what specific assistance the Saudis will provide.
The deal was announced on the same day that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Ash Carter met in Saudi Arabia for a round of meetings to discuss the ongoing crisis in Yemen.
The Saudi-American alliance has been the focus of concern in the White Houses dealings with the Saudi monarchy, and Trump has expressed doubts about its effectiveness in countering Iranian power and influence.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry on Monday said it was “extremely concerned” that the U to be selling weapons to Saudi.
“The Kingdom’s continued support of terrorism and extremist groups and their attempts to use Saudi Arabia as a base for terrorist operations in the region is extremely dangerous for the security of the Kingdom,” the ministry said.
“It is very regrettable that the Trump administration is not taking concrete steps to halt the sale of arms to the Saudi Kingdom.”
The United States is already the largest arms buyer in the Middle East and Saudi Arabia has long been a key U.A.E. ally.
The kingdom’s rulers have long sought to maintain the military advantage it enjoys in the Arab world, with the Trump Administration increasingly looking to strengthen its position in the area.
Saudi Arabian officials have also made efforts to cultivate U.R.F. (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) capabilities, which could allow the kingdom to strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The Pentagon is also considering a similar sale of F-16 fighter jets and other weaponry to the country.
The Saudis, however, have warned that the program could lead to a regional arms race.
Saudi officials have said the U-20 program, which has been in development for decades, would be halted as part of the arms deal.