The Arms Deal That Never Was? Trump's $110 Billion Deal With Saudis Is 'Fake News,' Defense Expert Says

Former CIA officer and Brookings Institute fellow says no contracts were signed during Trump's visit to Kingdom, but instead a wish list compiled of deals already discussed under Obama

A handout picture provided by the Saudi Royal Palace on May 22, 2017, shows US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump waving as they board Air Force One before leaving Riyadh to Israel.
BANDAR AL-JALOUD/AFP

The signing of a $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia during U.S. President Donald Trump's recent visit to the Middle East may be nothing more than "fake news," according to Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

According to Riedel, no contracts whatsoever were signed during Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia and no new agreements were even discussed beyond those that were already being discussed under Trump's predecessor, Barak Obama.

"There is no $110 billion deal," wrote Riedel, citing "contacts in the defense business" and in Washington. "Instead, there are a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but not contracts. Many are offers that the defense industry thinks the Saudis will be interested in someday ... The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the arms sales wing of the Pentagon, calls them 'intended sales.'"

So, what was Trump referring to when announcing the $110 billion arms deal? According to Riedel, "the administration... put together a notional package of the Saudi wish list of possible deals and portray[ed] that as a deal. Even then the numbers don't add up. It's fake news."

Riedel also argued that Saudi Arabia would currently be hard pressed to pay for such a deal thanks to a depression in oil prices and the cost of its ongoing military operations in Yemen, both factors in the Kingodm's struggle to pay off a previous $112 billion arms deal reached with the Obama administration.

According to Riedel, the 2012 package only passed through Congress when a deal was also reached to compensate Israel and "preserve their qualitative edge of their Arab neighbors."

"You will know the Trump deal is real when Israel begins to ask for a package to keep the Israeli Defense Forces' qualitative edge preserved," he writes.

Riedel wrote that included in the Saudi wish list is the purchase of four navy frigates and 150 Black Hawk helicopters. Both were approved in theory under Obama in 2015, but no contracts were ever drafted.