President Trump Visits Saudi Arabia, Announces $110 Billion Arms Sale

During his first foreign visit to Saudi Arabia beginning on May 20, President Donald Trump spoke to more than fifty leaders from Muslim-majority countries, addressing the need for unity in the fight against terror and radicalism. In his thirty-six-minute address, he emphasized the rejection of religious rifts in the war against extremism, stating, “This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations. This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it. This is a battle between good and evil.” Many likened the tone of Trump’s speech to President Barack Obama’s “New Beginning” speech given in Cairo in 2009, calling the tone “conciliatory,” in contrast to the highly critical and incendiary remarks Trump has made on Saudi Arabia and Islam at home. Mr. Trump’s tone was echoed by Sec. Rex Tillerson’s remarks during a press conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, which highlighted the importance of forging a strong relationship between the United States and the Islamic World. He also addressed Iran’s absence from the meeting, stating that, “until Iran shows its willingness to be a good neighbor… Iran will not have a place around this table that was set today.”

Trump’s visit was capped with the announcement of an historic, nearly $110 billion arms sale from the United States to Saudi Arabia. The sale, planned in part under the Obama administration, includes the transfer of arms and technology aimed at enhancing Saudi capabilities in counterterrorism, cybersecurity, maritime security, air power, and missile defense. The deal has faced criticism from many on humanitarian grounds. Saudi Arabia’s fight against Houthi rebels in Yemen has drawn stark condemnation from human rights groups and the broader international community, with many citing the Saudi coalition’s targeting of civilians and the famine affecting 17 million people caused by the conflict. According to former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Robert Jordan, “There’s a humanitarian aspect … This is something that will come back to bite the Saudis as well, and by implication the Americans, because we’re the ones providing the bombs and bullets.”  Lawmakers in the United States, including Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Todd Young (R-IN), also urged the president to place “commonsense conditions” on the deal and any other military assistance to the Kingdom in order to assure that human rights are being respected in Saudi Arabia’s campaign in Yemen.

The visit also finalized key business transactions, which included the signing of $50 billion in agreements between Saudi Aramco and its American partners and a $20 billion investment from the Kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund into U.S. infrastructure. The infrastructure investment is a joint venture between Saudi Arabia’s fund and U.S. private equity fund Blackstone. Saudi Arabia’s $20 billion investment represents half of the $40 billion venture, the other half of which will be raised by Blackstone’s investors. Additionally, the deal support’s President Trump’s plan to invest $1 trillion in improving American infrastructure, $800 billion of which he intends to be provided by private investors.