Middle East

Hagel in Riyadh as Saudi, US plan arms deal

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) has coffee with Deputy Minister of Defense Prince Fahd bin Abdullah upon his arrival at King Khaled International Airport in Riyadh, on April 23, 2013. AFP PHOTO/POOL/JIM WATSON

RIYADH: US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in Riyadh Tuesday on his first trip to the Saudi kingdom, with which the United States is preparing to seal a major arms deal.

Hagel flew in from as part of his regional tour, the first since he took office two months ago and which he began in Israel.

Later on Tuesday he is expected to meet with Crown Prince and Defence Minister Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz.

Syria's bloody conflict in which tens of thousands have so far been killed as well as the controversial nuclear programme of Saudi Arabia's regional rival Iran will top his agenda.

He was scheduled to meet former deputy defence minister Prince Khaled bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, but the official was sacked by a royal decree on Saturday.

He was replaced by Prince Fahd bin Abdullah bin Mohammed, who has been commander of Saudi naval forces since 2002.

Prince Khaled commanded Arab and Muslim armies in a US-led coalition which evicted Iraqi occupation forces from Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War.

He had played a major role in sealing several arms deals with the United States, mainly in 2010 when the Pentagon said it plans to sell Saudi Arabia 84 F-15 fighter jets, 70 Apache attack helicopters, 72 tactical Black Hawk helicopters and 36 light helicopters, as well as upgrades for 70 used F-15s.

The delivery of the weapons to the oil-rich kingdom, thought to be the largest ever single US arms sale, would be spread across 15 to 20 years.

Hagel visit comes as the United States unveiled plans Friday to sell $10 billion worth of advanced missiles and aircraft to Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in a bid to counter the alleged threat posed by Iran.

Under the package, which is still being finalised, the US government will sell 26 F-16 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates as well as sophisticated missiles for the warplanes, which officials would not specify.

The UAE part of the arms deal comes to nearly $5 billion, officials said.

Saudi Arabia would purchase the same advanced missiles provided to the UAE, allowing Saudi fighters to strike ground targets at a safe distance.

Hagel will next travel to Egypt and the Emirates.

Americans are seeking to boost the capabilities of Arab allies while maintaining a longstanding US commitment to ensure Israel enjoys military superiority in the region.

"This is one of the most complex and carefully orchestrated arms packages in American history," said a US defence official.





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