State Department clears $1.3B artillery sale to Saudi Arabia

State Department clears $1.3B artillery sale to Saudi Arabia
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The State Department has approved selling Saudi Arabia $1.31 billion worth of artillery and supporting equipment, a Pentagon agency announced Thursday.

“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of an important partner which has been and continues to be a leading contributor of political stability and economic progress in the Middle East,” the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a notice published Thursday.

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“This sale will increase the Royal Saudi Land Force's (RSLF) interoperability with U.S. forces and conveys U.S. commitment to Saudi Arabia's security and armed forces modernization.”

The potential sale includes 180 155 mm M109A5/A6 medium self-propelled howitzer structures for conversion to 177 155 mm M109A6 Paladin medium self-propelled howitzer systems.

“The RSLF currently has M109A2, A3 and A5 howitzers in its inventory,” the agency said. “These additional modernized howitzers will enhance Saudi Arabia’s ability to support its deployed forces and defend its borders.”

The agency notified Congress of the sale Thursday, setting off a 30-day clock for lawmakers to block the sale if they so choose.

The prime contractor for the sale is “unknown at this time,” the notice said.

Thursday’s approval comes after the State Department last month approved about $1 billion in arms sales to the Saudis, including about $670 million in antitank missiles. That approval came while Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was in D.C. meeting with President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House counsel called Trump 'King Kong' behind his back: report Trump stays out of Arizona's ugly and costly GOP fight Trump claims he instructed White House counsel to cooperate with Mueller MORE, Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisMattis says he'll dispatch Navy hospital ship to help Venezuelan migrants Pentagon, GOP breathe sign of relief after Trump cancels parade Overnight Defense: Pompeo creates 'action group' for Iran policy | Trump escalates intel feud | Report pegs military parade cost at M MORE and other officials.

Salman’s visit to the United States is ongoing, and he was reportedly set to meet with defense contractor Lockheed Martin this week after meeting with Boeing last week.

Arms sales to Saudi Arabia have been controversial in recent years due to mounting civilian causalities in the Yemen civil war. Saudi Arabia is leading the military coalition supporting the internationally recognized government and has been blamed for the majority of the civilian casualties. 

Arms sales were also caught up in the U.S. response to the Saudi-led blockade against Qatar. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSen. Warner to introduce amendment limiting Trump’s ability to revoke security clearances White House weighs clawing back State, foreign aid funding Rand Paul to ask Trump to lift sanctions on Russian leaders MORE (R-Tenn.) vowed in June to stop arms sales to Persian Gulf countries during the crisis, but lifted the hold in February while conceding that “unfortunately, there still isn’t a clear path to resolving the rift.”