The US State Department has approved the possible sale of a anti-missile defence system to Saudi Arabia at an estimated cost of $15 billion, the Pentagon has said as it labelled Iran a regional threat.
Saudi Arabia asked to purchase 44 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) launchers and 360 missiles, as well as fire control stations and radars.
“This sale furthers US national security and foreign policy interests, and supports the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian and other regional threats,” the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation agency said in a statement.
Iran has one of the biggest ballistic missile programmes in the Middle East, viewing it as an essential precautionary defence against the United States and other adversaries, primarily Gulf Arab states and Israel. THAAD missile systems are deployed to defend against ballistic missile attacks.
Saudi-owned al Arabiya television reported on Thursday that the kingdom had agreed to buy Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems, an announcement that came as Saudi King Salman made during his visit to Russia, the first by a Saudi monarch.
US military sales to Saudi Arabia have come under increased scrutiny over a Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen.
Riyadh and its allies have been bombing the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen since the Houthis seized much of the countr's north in 2015. Riyadh says the coalition is fighting terrorists and supporting Yemen's legitimate government.
But, in a report submitted to the UN Security Council on Thursday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres blacklisted the Saudi-led coalition for its actions in 2016, blaming them for killing or injuring 683 children in Yemen and attacking dozens of schools and hospitals Although, Mr Guterres said the coalition had taken action to improve child protection.
Saudi Arabian officials labelled the report “inaccurate and misleading.”
“We exercise the maximum degree of care and precaution to avoid civilian harm,” Saudi UN Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi said.
Lockheed Martin Co is the prime contractor for the THAAD system, with Raytheon Co playing an important role in the system's deployment.
The United States deployed THAAD to South Korea this year to guard against North Korea's shorter-range missiles. That has drawn fierce criticism from China, which says the system's powerful radar can probe deep into its territory.
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