Trump, Saudis Reach $110b in Military Deals to Bolster Defense Against Iran

Defense cooperation agreement between U.S and Saudis includes tanks, combat ships, missile defense systems and cybersecurity technology

U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud take part in a signing ceremony at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh on May 20, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud take part in a signing ceremony at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh on May 20, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN MANDEL NGAN/AFP

The United States on Saturday announced military deals worth nearly $110 billion, during a visit by President Donald Trump to Saudi Arabia. 

A White House official said Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would attend the signing of a memorandum of intent on a package of defense equipment and services to bolster the security of the kingdom and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian threats.

The defense cooperation agreement with the Saudis, pledging $110 billion effective immediately and up to $350 billion over 10 years, includes tanks, combat ships, missile defense systems, radar and communications, and cybersecurity technology.

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"This package demonstrates, in the clearest terms possible, the United States' commitment to our partnership with Saudi Arabia and our Gulf partners, while also expanding opportunities for American companies in the region, and supporting tens of thousands of new jobs in the U.S. defense industrial base," a statement said. 

Trump arrived in Riyadh after an overnight flight and was welcomed at elaborate airport ceremony punctuated by a military flyover and a handshake from Saudi King Salman. The king did not greet Obama at the airport when he visited last year.

Trump is the only American president to make Saudi Arabia, or any majority Muslim country, his first stop overseas - a choice designed in part to show respect to the region after more than a year of Trump's harsh anti-Muslim campaign rhetoric.

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At a later ceremony at the grand Saudi Royal Court, the king placed the Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud, the nation's highest civilian honor, around Trump's neck. The medal, given to Trump for his efforts to strengthen ties in the region, has also been bestowed on Russian President Vladimir Putin, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama.

The king and Trump were overheard discussing natural resources and arms, and the king bemoaned the destruction caused by Syria's civil war.

White House officials hope the trip, complete with images of the accompanying pomp and pageantry of a president abroad, will help Trump recalibrate after one of the most difficult stretches of his young presidency. 

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Billboards featuring images of Trump and the king and emblazoned with the motto "Together we prevail," dotted Riyadh's highways, and Trump's hotel was bathed in red, white and blue lights and, at times, an image of the president's face.

Mrs. Trump, Melania Trump, wore a black pantsuit with a golden belt and did not cover her head, consistent with the custom for foreign dignitaries visiting Saudi Arabia. Trump's daughter, Ivanka, also eschewed the scarf. Her father had criticized then-lady Michelle Obama for not wearing a headscarf during a 2015 visit to the kingdom.

Trump arrived as Iran's President Hassan Rohani won re-election by a wide margin, giving the moderate cleric a second, four-year term to continue pushing for greater freedoms and outreach to the wider world.

On Sunday, he'll deliver a speech on Islam and hold meetings with more than 50 Arab and Muslim leaders, who are converging on Riyadh for a regional summit focused largely on combating the Islamic State and other extremist groups. White House aides view the address as a counter to Obama's 2009 speech to the Muslim world, which Trump criticized as too apologetic for U.S. actions in the region.

Trump will call for unity in the fight against radicalism in the Muslim world, casting the challenge as a "battle between good and evil" and urging Arab leaders to "drive out the terrorists from your places of worship," according to a draft of the speech obtained by The Associated Press.

The draft notably refrains from mentioning democracy and human rights — topics Arab leaders often view as U.S. moralizing — in favor of the more limited goals of peace and stability.

The draft also abandons some of the harsh anti-Muslim rhetoric that defined Trump's presidential campaign and does not contain the words "radical Islamic terror," a phrase Trump repeatedly criticized Hillary Clinton for not using during last year's campaign.