“I think it’s important to acknowledge that there doesn’t appear to be much ‘on the way’ other than an agreement to pursue an agreement,” Jonathan Lord, director of the Middle East security program at the Center for a New American Security, told Breaking Defense. “It’s been reported that to move forward, Riyadh is seeking security guarantees from Washington, along with the ability to purchase advanced weapons systems and to receive them in a timely fashion, and finally, a civilian nuclear energy program. This is a tall order, but may not be insurmountable if the administration can engage Congress proactively.”
Lord also said to expect Saudi to seek THAAD or further Patriot procurements.
“It’s possible they have specific systems in mind, but their purpose is likely broader than that. The Saudis already fly F-15s, and continued maintenance and logistics support for those aircraft — provided through US foreign military sales — has been a divisive issue in Congress. FMS cases like that are critical to keeping the Saudi air force flying. Ostensibly, the Saudis shouldn’t face political obstacles in purchasing systems like THAAD or Patriot, since it’s the policy of both the Biden administration and the Congressional foreign affairs committees to green-light the sale of systems to the Saudis that are defensive in nature,” Lord said.
And even if the US agrees to sell Saudi the weapons it wants, there are outstanding factors that mean the Saudis may not get them at the desired speed, said Lord.
“On the issue of security assistance, specifically, if Washington consents to selling Saudi Arabia the platforms it seeks, can the US defense industrial base deliver and deliver in a timely fashion? That’s a problem much broader than US-Saudi relations; it potentially implicates the DIB [defense industrial base], because already, it can’t seem to meet US and partner and ally demand for critical defense systems,” he said.
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