In a move to allay the Persian Gulf state’s concerns over the Iran nuclear deal, the Pentagon is finalizing a $1 billion arms agreement with Saudi Arabia. The agreement will provide weapons for the Saudi military effort against Islamic State and Yemen, according to senior administration officials Thursday.

The New York Times reports:

Details of the pact are being worked out ahead of a visit by King Salman of Saudi Arabia to the White House on Friday, the officials said, adding that the deal must be approved by Congress before it is final. The two leaders are also expected to discuss additional military training that the United States can provide for Saudi Arabia as it adopts a more muscular stance in the region.

The weapons deal, although not the largest between the United States and Saudi Arabia, comes at a time when the Obama administration is promising Arab allies that it will back them against what many Arab governments view as a rising Iran. It also comes as the Middle East is descending into proxy wars, sectarian conflicts and battles against terrorist networks.

The result is that countries in the region that had stockpiled American military hardware are now using it and wanting more, a boon for American defense contractors.

Administration officials said that there are no warplanes included in the agreement, and stressed that at the moment the only country in the Middle East that will get F-35 fighter jets, considered the jewel of America’s future arsenal, is Israel. Administration officials said the sale to the Saudis primarily comprised missiles that would fit the F-15 fighter jets Saudi Arabia previously bought from the United States.

But a senior administration official said that “a range of other options meant to bolster Saudi defenses” would also be discussed. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter discussed the munitions sale with King Salman in July when Mr. Carter visited the king at one of his palaces in Jidda, and on Friday Mr. Carter will meet with the Saudi defense minister, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in Washington.

The pending weapons sale to the Saudis is already coming under criticism from human rights activists who say the administration is supplying arms to Saudi combat operations in a conflict in Yemen that has taken an enormous toll on civilian lives. Last month Doctors Without Borders said that Saudi-led airstrikes on a residential district in Yemen’s southwestern city of Taiz had killed more than 65 civilians, including 17 people from one family.

Read more here.

–Posted by Roisin Davis

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