Officials say president’s top adviser ordered numbers exaggerated to reach $115 billion sum; Pentagon says only $14.5 billion in deals with Riyadh actually in the works.
Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner in 2017 exaggerated the amount of US arms sales to Saudi Arabia in a bid to solidify the Trump administration’s alliance with the kingdom, ABC news reported Monday.
The report said Kushner, who is son-in-law to President Donald Trump, directed the State Department and Pentagon to inflate the amount of arms exchanges between the two countries to $110 billion, a figure that current and former US officials said included potential deals. Actual sales have amounted to only $15 billion.
The extensive sales were touted as a major foreign policy achievement for the Trump administration, and were cited by the president as a key reason he would not punish Saudi Arabia for the murder of US-based columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
But the $110 billion arms deals outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding have little to no legal value, according to ABC News, which has seen the document.
The five-page memorandum shows billion dollar price tags for vague projects or deals, some years away from being inked, according to ABC. Most of the details — including weapon types, quantities and delivery dates — were listed as “to be determined.”
A State Department official said the document was a list of military equipment that Saudi Arabia had either shown interest in, or had been flagged by US defense analysts as among Riyadh’s needs.
The memorandum itself notes that it “does not create any authority to perform any work, award any contract, issue articles from stock, transfer funds, or otherwise obligate or create a binding commitment in any way either for the United States or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
So far, Saudi Arabia has only signed “Letters of Offer and Acceptance” for $14.5 billion in US military hardware and training, according to the Pentagon.
Since the memorandum was signed earlier this year, the report said little movement had been made to fulfill any purchases. In September, the Saudis let a deadline pass for purchasing one of the pricier items on the list, the US-made THAAD missile defense system.
Two US officials and three former White House officials told ABC the figure was overblown at Kushner’s direction in an effort to symbolically solidify ties between the Trump White House and Saudi Arabia.
“We need to sell them as much as possible,” Kushner reportedly instructed colleagues at a National Security Council meeting, weeks ahead of Trump’s visit to the kingdom in May 2017.
“They were asking us to put as much pressure on the Saudis as we could [to buy American arms],” a former NSC official said. “It was definitely being pushed on the Pentagon people to see what was possible with the Saudis.”
The official said that Secretary of Defense James Mattis backed Kushner’s effort.
Mattis, along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will brief US senators on Wednesday on developments related to Saudi Arabia, amid mounting bipartisan concern about the kingdom’s role in Khashoggi’s death.
Trump has condemned the brutal slaying inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul as a “horrible crime … that our country does not condone.” But he rejected calls by many in Congress, including members of his own party, for a tougher response, and also dismissed reports from US intelligence agencies that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman must have at least known about such an audacious and intricate plot.
Last week, Trump told reporters that “foolishly canceling these contracts” with Saudi Arabia worth billions of dollars would only benefit Russia and China, which would be next in line to supply the weapons.
Critics denounced Trump’s statement, saying he was ignoring human rights and granting Saudi Arabia a pass for economic reasons.
Asked by a reporter if he was saying that human rights were too expensive to fight for, he responded, “No, I’m not saying that at all.” But he then switched the subject to the “terrorist nation” of Iran, rather than any actions on Saudi Arabia.
The US needs a “counterbalance” to Iran, “and Israel needs help, too,” he said. “If we abandon Saudi Arabia, it would be a terrible mistake.”
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