Major weapons makers rattled over Saudi deals
WASHINGTON: Major US defense contractors have expressed concern to the Trump administration that lawmakers angered by the disappearance of a Saudi journalist in Turkey will block further arms deals with Saudi Arabia, a senior US official said yesterday. Turkish reports that journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a vocal critic of Riyadh, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and removed have hardened resistance in the US Congress to selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, already a sore point for many lawmakers concerned about the Saudi role in Yemen’s civil war.
Saudi Arabia rejects the allegations in Turkey as baseless. US President Donald Trump said on Thursday he was wary of halting arms sales to Riyadh because of Khashoggi as it would just shift its weapons purchases to Russia and China. Saudi Arabia, where Trump last year announced a $110 billion arms package, has been a centerpiece of his overhaul of weapons export policy in which he has gone further than any of his predecessors in acting as a weapons salesman. However, critics say the new approach gives too much weight to business interests versus human rights concerns.
The senior U.S. official declined to identify the companies that had contacted the administration over their Saudi arms deals. Defense contractors did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Lockheed Martin Corp and Raytheon Co have been the most active US defense companies with potential sales to Saudi Arabia since Trump announced the package as part of his “Buy American” agenda to create jobs at home.
In Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike are alarmed by the disappearance of Khashoggi, a US resident who wrote columns for the Washington Post. He entered the consulate on Oct 2 to collect documents for his planned marriage. Saudi officials say Khashoggi left the building shortly afterwards, but his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, said he never re-appeared. — Reuters