President Donald Trump‘s senior adviser, Jared Kushner, inflated arms sale figures to Saudi Arabia in order to strengthen Washington’s relationship with the Gulf nation, according to an ABC News report.
Citing two officials and three former White House aides, the US network said on Monday that Kushner, who is also Trump’s son-in-law, pressured US State and Defense Department officials to inflate numbers in his bid to “symbolically solidify the new alliance between the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia“.
In May 2017, Washington and Riyadh inked a much-touted arms deal estimated at $110bn, a number that critics have long questioned.
The deal however, which was signed by Defense Secretary James Mattis and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) in Riyadh during Trump’s first official trip abroad, was a memorandum of intent with “very little legal weight”.
“This document does not create any authority to perform any work, award and contract, ‘issue articles from stock’, transfer funds, or otherwise obligate or create a binding commitment in any way either for the United States or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the document, which ABC obtained of a copy of, states.
In the run-up to the summit, Kushner was quoted by a White House source as telling colleagues at a national security council meeting that “we need to sell them as much as possible”.
Another source said there had been an ongoing debate between Kushner and officials at the Departments of Defense and State, respectively, to get a larger number because initially figures would only add up to 15bn.
Little progress has been made since the deal was reached however, with the Saudis so far having signed Letters of Offer and Acceptance (LOAs) valued at around $14.5bn for equipment, including helicopters, tanks, ships, weapons and training.
Riyadh has also passed on a September deadline to acquire the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) that comes with a price tag of $15bn.
According to ABC, many of the deals included in the memo lack details as to the type and quantity of equipment to be sold, some of which is not expected to be delivered until after 2022.
Kushner and Prince Mohammed developed a close working relationship since Trump’s assumed office in January 2017.
Trump, meanwhile, has come out in support of MBS, dismissing a reported CIA assessment that the 33-year-old heir to the Saudi throne had ordered the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the country’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
On November 20, Trump said he would not take any punitive measure against Riyadh, adding that a halt in arms sales to the kingdom’s would allow China and Russia to fill the void.
“If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries,” the president said.