US arms makers express concern to Trump admin about Saudi deals

Jamal Khashoggi, a former Saudi government advisor, had been living in the United States since last year, fearing possible arrest (AFP pic)

WASHINGTON: Major US defence 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 told Reuters on Friday.

Turkish reports that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a vocal critic of Riyadh, was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul 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.

US President Donald Trump said on Thursday he was wary of halting arms sales to Saudi Arabia over the case as the key US ally would just shift its weapons purchases to Russia and China.

In Congress, Democrats and some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, have said the Khashoggi case had heightened resistance to moving ahead with Saudi weapons sales that could be worth tens of billions of dollars.

Even before that, Democratic US lawmakers had placed “holds” on at least four military equipment deals, largely because of Saudi attacks that killed Yemeni civilians.

“They’ve had holds on major systems for months for Yemen issues,” the senior administration official said. “This makes it more likely they’ll expand holds to include systems that aren’t necessarily controversial by themselves. It’s a major concern.”

The US official declined to name the companies that had contacted the administration over the fate of their Saudi deals. Defence contractors did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lockheed Martin Corp and Raytheon Co have been the most active US defence companies with potential sales to Saudi Arabia since a US$110 billion package of arms deals with the country was announced by the Trump administration in May 2017.

Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2 to get documents for his forthcoming marriage. Saudi officials say he left shortly afterwards but Turkish officials and his fiancee, who was waiting outside, said he never came out.

Turkish sources have told Reuters the initial assessment of the police was that Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the Saudi government, was deliberately killed inside the consulate. Riyadh has dismissed the allegations as baseless.