As Iran's influence grows, US signs $60bn Saudi arms deal

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The Independent US

The United States plans to sell up to $60bn worth of military aircraft to Saudi Arabia, the State Department announced in a move designed to shore up a region overshadowed by Iran.

Andrew Shapiro, the Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, told a news conference the US administration did not anticipate any objections to the sale from Israel, traditionally wary of arms sales to nearby Arab countries. "We think it will enhance regional security and stability rather than diminish it," Mr Shapiro told a news conference.

The sale includes 84 new Boeing F-15 aircraft and 70 upgrades of existing Saudi F-15s. It also includes 70 of Boeing's Apache attack helicopters and 36 of its A/MH-6 Little Bird helicopters. In addition, the deal will include 72 Black Hawk helicopters built by Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp.

Mr Shapiro said the total value of the package would not exceed $60bn (£38bn), although he emphasized that Saudi Arabia may choose not to exercise all of its purchase options during the programme, which will last from 15 to 20 years.

Alexander Vershbow, the Assistant Secretary of Defence for International Security Affairs, said the US had discussed the matter with Israel, and concluded that it would not undercut Israel's military edge in the region.

"We have consulted with Israel as this sale has taken shape. Based on what we've heard at high levels, Israel does not object to this sale," he said.

Mr Vershbow and Mr Shapiro both stressed that bolstering Saudi Arabia's defence capabilities would improve US security in a vital part of the world where fears are growing over Iran's nuclear program.

"This is not solely about Iran," Mr Shapiro said. "It's about helping the Saudis with their legitimate security needs. They live in a dangerous neighbourhood and we are helping them preserve and protect their security."

Mr Vershbow said the sale would improve Saudi Arabia's ability to co-ordinate with the US on shared security challenges "so it means we may have to station fewer forces on a continuing basis in the region".

US and international concern about Iran's growing military capability includes advances in a nuclear program the West believes is aimed at developing atomic weapons – accusations Tehran denies. The US has also flagged concern about Iran's growing missile capabilities and has been quietly helping Arab states boost their missile defences. US officials are also discussing a possible deal to upgrade Saudi Arabia's navy.