US President Joe Biden’s vaunted freeze on arms sales to Gulf Arab kingdoms has been belied by a deal between Lockheed Martin and Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI) announced a joint venture with the US aerospace and defence firm on Sunday to develop Riyadh’s “domestic defence and security capabilities”.
The new company will help build up the Saudi arms industry through “transfer of technology (ToT) and knowledge (ToK) and training of Saudi nationals to manufacture products and provide services to the Kingdom’s armed forces,” a Sami statement read.
The agreement was signed by SAMI CEO Walid Abukhaled and Lockheed Martin International Senior Vice-President Timothy Cahill at the International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
“SAMI has been exploring avenues to help build a sustainable, self-sufficient military industries sector in the Kingdom,” said Abukhaled, “and our strong and enduring partnership with Lockheed Martin underpins our commitment.”
Cahill called the deal a “major milestone in our strategic relationship with SAMI” in line with its strategy of “providing reliable defence and security solutions that will support security and prosperity for decades to come.”
SAMI, a subsidiary of the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), will have a 51 per cent stake in the venture while Lockheed Martin will control the remainder.
Early this month Biden said his was ending US operational support and arms supplies to Saudi Arabia for its six-year war on Yemen that has left at least 100,000 people dead and 80 per cent of the population in need of aid. That support began in 2015 when Biden was serving as vice-president to Barack Obama.
The White House later removed Yemen’s Ansarallah movement — dominated by the Houthi clan — from its list of designated terrorist organisations and urged the force to call a ceasefire and enter talks with their Saudi opponents.
In late January his administration announced a temporary freeze on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, pending a review. But that was viewed in the context of moves to pull out of the deal Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump struck with the UAE to sell 50 Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth attack jets — seen as a quid pro quo for Emirati recognition of the state of Israel last year.
Only on Saturday US Congressman Ro Khanna, a member of Biden’s Democratic Party and a long-time critic of the Yemen war, hailed the president’s pronouncements on Yemen as a “profound and historic shift”.
“We’re being explicit and bold and open to the Saudis saying, ‘no, this is not a war we support’,” Khanna said. “Now I think that President Biden has made a clear statement that relationship is no longer what it once was.”