Despite calls by international human rights groups on the U.S. to stop providing Saudi Arabia with weapons being used in the onslaught in Yemen, Washington Wednesday approved the US$11.25-billion sale to the Saudi military of up to four Lockheed Martin Corp multi-mission warships, plus associated equipment, training and logistics.
The Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress late Monday about the possible sale, and released a statement on its website on Tuesday, according to Reuters.
"We stand ready to support that sale," Lockheed Chief Executive Officer Marillyn Hewson told analysts on an earnings call. She said the deal could be completed in 2016.
The Pentagon’s office in charge of the sale of weapons and other military equipment (DSCA) said the major defense equipment involved in the deal was worth US$4.3 billion, with the rest going to fund extensive engineering, logistics and training required for the program.
U.S. members of Congress now have 30 days to block the sale, an action that is rare since potential deals are carefully vetted before formal notification, Reuters added.
In September, Reuters reported that Saudi Arabia was in advanced discussions with the U.S. government about buying two of the ships, and could reach agreement by the end of the year. It was not immediately clear if the Gulf country would buy all four ships at once.
Saudi Arabia intends to modernize their Royal Navy's Eastern Fleet by replacing older U.S.-built ships with new ships based on the Littoral Combat Ships.
The sale will be the first major export in years of a newly built U.S.-manufactured surface naval vessel, and will enable the U.S. military to operate more easily with the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.
"This sale demonstrates the enduring U.S. commitment to building robust diplomatic and security partnerships essential to promoting peace and stability in the Gulf region," said one U.S. official who was not authorized to speak publicly.
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The deal has been approved at a moment Saudi Arabia is under increasing criticism over the more than 2,400 civilian casualties it has caused in their airstrikes in Yemen since March 26.
The United Nations and other major human rights organizations have condemned the Saudis over their airstrikes against the Houthis in Yemen. Many NGOs suggested the United States was responsible for the onslaught in Yemen because the weapons being used are U.S.-made and sold to Saudi Arabia by Washington. The called on the Obama Administration to halt all sales of arms to the Saudis.
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About 7,000 people have reportedly lost their lives in the Saudi raids, including at least 500 children, while 14,000 have been injured.
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