from the artful-dealing dept.
Ahead of the US president's visit to Saudi Arabia, a series of multi-billion-dollar arms deals have been outlined. The previous US administration suspended some supplies because of human rights concerns.
When President Trump arrives in Riyadh this week, he will lay out his vision for a new regional security architecture White House officials call an “Arab NATO,” to guide the fight against terrorism and push back against Iran. As a cornerstone of the plan, Trump will also announce one of the largest arms-sales deals in history.
Behind the scenes, the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia have been conducting extensive negotiations, led by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The discussions began shortly after the presidential election, when Mohammed, known in Washington as “MBS,” sent a delegation to meet with Kushner and other Trump officials at Trump Tower.
After years of disillusionment with the Obama administration, the Saudi leadership was eager to do business. “They were willing to make a bet on Trump and on America,” a senior White House official said.
[...] The most concrete part of the idea is a mammoth U.S. arms package for Saudi Arabia that Trump will also announce in Riyadh. Final details are still being worked out, but officials said the package will include between $98 billion and $128 billion in arms sales. Over 10 years, total sales could reach $350 billion.
The sales include huge upgrades for the Saudi army and navy to include Littoral Combat Ships, THAAD missile defense systems, armored personnel carriers, missiles, bombs and munitions, officials said. Some of the production and assembly could be located in Saudi Arabia, boosting MBS’s project to build a Saudi domestic defense industrial capability. But most of the items would be built by American defense contractors.
- FAIR (opinion)
- The American Conservative (opinion)
- CNN (opinion)
- London Times (pay walled)
- The Australian (News Corp)
- Independent Online (opinion)
- Breitbart News
- CBS News
- Washington Times
- Jordan Times
- The Guardian
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How does the Islamic State, a ragtag band of jihadis who are supposedly at war with the combined military might of the US, Turkey, the Saudis, the Russians, the Iraqis, the Iranians and many others (including, of course, the Syrians) manage to fund and coordinate spectacular international terror attacks, including not only the Paris attack, but also (apparently) bombings in Turkey and Lebanon, and the take down of Russian airliners? How is it that governments can flag and track the "suspicious" financial transactions of anyone withdrawing or transferring over $10,000 from their own bank account, but can't seem to find a way to restrict cash flows, arms and munitions to a geographically isolated enemy who are dependent on oil sales for their financial survival?
Good question. Just don't ask the US State Department spokesman those questions, because he doesn't have the answers. When asked earlier this week by RT's Gayane Chichakyan "whether the US has sanctioned any banks suspected of carrying out transactions for ISIL," department spokesman Mark Toner responded with a resounding: "I'd have to look into that. I don't have the answer in front of me."
Apparently the question of how ISIS is financing its operations is of so little interest to the State Department that they haven't bothered to look into it. So in the interest of helping them out with their homework, let's connect a few dots, shall we?
[More after the break.]
Protest in Tehran after Saudis execute Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr
Saudi Arabia said Saturday it had executed 47 people in a single day, including a dissident Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, who had repeatedly spoken out against the government and the Saudi royal family.
Nimr had been convicted of inciting sectarian strife, sedition and other charges following his 2012 arrest.
Iran, Saudi Arabia's regional rival, summoned the Saudi ambassador in Tehran to condemn the execution, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. The Shiite-majority nation issued a statement deploring the execution and warning that Saudi Arabia would pay a heavy price for its policies.
Iranian Protesters Ransack Saudi Embassy After Execution of Shiite Cleric
Iranian protesters ransacked and set fire to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran on Saturday after Saudi Arabia executed an outspoken Shiite cleric who had criticized the kingdom's treatment of its Shiite minority.
The executions coincided with increased attacks in Saudi Arabia by the jihadists of the Islamic State and an escalating rivalry between the Sunni monarchy and Shiite Iran that is playing out in conflicts in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere. Sheikh Nimr was an outspoken critic of the Saudi monarchy and was adopted as a symbolic leader by Shiite protesters in several Persian Gulf countries during the Arab Spring uprisings.
[More after the break.]
The New York Times reports (and Yahoo! News repeats without any paywall) that the government of Saudi Arabia is threatening to sell $750 billion in treasury securities and other unidentified assets if Congress passes the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. The bill would allow foreign governments to be sued by 9/11 victims and their families. The threat was issued by Saudi Arabian foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir to unnamed US lawmakers while he was visiting Washington sometime last month, on the grounds that these assets could be in danger of being frozen by US courts.
A member of the 9/11 commission has broken his silence about some of the unreleased findings:
A former Republican member of the 9/11 commission, breaking dramatically with the commission's leaders, said Wednesday he believes there was clear evidence that Saudi government employees were part of a support network for the 9/11 hijackers and that the Obama administration should move quickly to declassify a long-secret congressional report on Saudi ties to the 2001 terrorist attack.
The comments by John F Lehman, an investment banker in New York who was Navy secretary in the Reagan administration, signal the first serious public split among the 10 commissioners since they issued a 2004 final report that was largely read as an exoneration of Saudi Arabia, which was home to 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11.
After repeated claims that Britain's reloading of the Saudi Arabian Royal Air Force's bomb bays does not mean Britain is at war with Yemen – where its ordnance are dropped – the government finally conceded that it is.
In a tense exchange with parliamentarians in a debate on the British sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, Alan Duncan, the government's Special Envoy to Yemen, said: "We are in conflict for a reason".
Duncan's admission officially confirms of what every sensible person has known since March 2015, when Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen's civil war with an air campaign made possible by British planes and British bombs, and for which UK arms companies made £2.8bn in revenues in the first year alone.
To use the words of the UN envoy to Yemen, the "humanitarian catastrophe" precipitated by the Arab world's richest country bombing its poorest has been almost total.
[...] while NGOs and MPs in several parliamentary committees have been sharp in their criticism of the government for continuing to fuel this war, the government does nothing, meekly claiming over and over again there is no evidence of Saudi war crimes in Yemen and that Britain regularly "seeks assurances" from Saudi Arabia that it is not committing those crimes.
In March, the UK director of Human Rights Watch told the arms export control committee that he has personally handed evidence to the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, complete with GPS coordinates, of Saudi air strikes on civilian targets. This month Amnesty International sent photographs of British-made BL-755 cluster bombs partially exploded in recent months discovered in farmland near the village of al-Khadhra in northern Yemen.
[...] The government is wriggling because, under Britain's own arms export laws, it is illegal for it to sell arms to a state that is at a "clear risk" of committing international humanitarian crimes. Acknowledging the chorus of evidence of Saudi war crimes in Yemen would be tantamount to admitting Britain's complicity in them.
The truth is that the arms trade of a handful of private arms companies with Saudi Arabia is simply off limits to our country's democratic apparatus as well as its civil society.
Source: The Independent
"According to various FBI documents and CIA memorandum, some of the September 11 hijackers, while in the United States, apparently had contacts with individuals who may be connected to the Saudi Government," the report said, giving a catalog of alleged links.
They included reported contacts between Saudis in California and a statement that a man who was reportedly a Saudi Interior Ministry official stayed at the same Virginia hotel as one hijacker in September 2001.
Another section said that Omar al-Bayoumi, said to be a Saudi intelligence officer, met with two hijackers at a public place after they arrived in San Diego. It said, citing FBI files, that his salary rose to $3,700 a month from $465 two months after two of the hijackers arrived in California.
One page described how two of the hijackers asked flight attendants technical questions during a trip in 1999 from Phoenix to Washington to attend a party at the Saudi embassy. One tried twice to enter the cockpit. The plane made an emergency landing and the FBI investigated, but did not prosecute.
Here are the documents, available at Cryptome or House.gov. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence says that the release of the documents is not an indication that the intelligence community agrees with their accuracy. Apparently, many of the leads mentioned have been investigated by the FBI and found to have no basis in fact.
So, SoylentNews readers, did the Saudis do 9/11?
President Obama plans to veto a bipartisan bill that would create an exception to the sovereign immunity doctrine, allowing victims of state-sponsored terrorism to sue foreign governments:
President Barack Obama will veto a bill that would allow terror victims of the attacks on September 11, 2001, to sue Saudi Arabia, the White House said Monday. "That's still the plan," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said when asked if the President planned to veto the bill. The White House had previously suggested Obama would not sign the bill when it first passed the Senate in May saying it would complicate diplomatic relations. [...] Lawmakers are expected to attempt to override the veto, and if successful, would mark the first time in Obama's presidency.
The bill passed in the House and Senate unanimously.
For the first time since President Obama took office in 2009, Congress has overridden his veto.
The U.S. Senate voted 97-1 to override President Obama's veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which would allow victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia. The lone dissenting vote was Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), who has "always had the president's back":
In a letter Monday to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.) and ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter warned that allowing the bill to become law risked "damaging our close and effective cooperation with other countries" and "could ultimately have a chilling effect on our own counter-terrorism efforts." Thornberry and Smith both circulated letters among members in the last few days, urging them to vote against overriding the veto. CIA Director John O. Brennan also warned of the 9/11 bill's "grave implications for the national security of the United States" in a statement Wednesday.
Congress on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to override a veto by President Obama for the first time, passing into law a bill that would allow the families of those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for any role in the plot.
Democrats in large numbers joined with Republicans to deliver a remarkable rebuke to the president. The 97-to-1 vote in the Senate and the 348-to-77 vote in the House displayed the enduring power of the Sept. 11 families in Washington and the diminishing influence here of the Saudi government.
Submitted via IRC for TheMightyBuzzard
Saudi military base also targeted by missile fired deep inside the kingdom near holy city of Mecca.
A US Navy destroyer has been targeted in a failed missile attack from territory in Yemen controlled by Houthi rebels, a US military spokesman says.
In another attack, a ballistic missile launched from Yemen targeted a Saudi airbase near the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi and rebel media reported Monday, the deepest strike yet into the kingdom by the rebels and their allies.
Two missiles failed to hit the US Navy ship after being launched on Sunday, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told Reuters news agency.
"USS Mason detected two inbound missiles over a 60-minute period while in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen. Both missiles impacted the water before reaching the ship," he said. "There were no injuries to our sailors and no damage to the ship."
Lieutenant Ian McConnaughey, a Navy spokesman, said on Monday that it was unclear if the Mason was specifically targeted, though the missiles were fired in its direction.
The destroyer at the time of the missile fire was north of the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, which serves as a gateway for oil tankers headed to Europe through the Suez Canal, a defence official said.
[...] On Monday, Saudi state television broadcast a brief clip of what appeared to be a projectile landing in Taif and the flash of an explosion, followed by images of emergency vehicles.
Taif is home to Saudi Arabia's King Fahad Air Base, which hosts US military personnel training the kingdom's armed forces.
The Saudi military said the missile fired late on Saturday caused no damage. The US military's Central Command, which oversees troops in the Middle East, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Al-Masirah, a satellite news channel run by the Houthis, identified the missile as a local variant of a Soviet-era Scud missile. It said the Volcano-1 missile targeted the airbase.
Vague and secretive order bans devices larger than a phone on certain flights to US
It looks like the TSA has finally got round to reading XKCD 651. They have quietly banned electronic devices "larger than a phone" from the cabins of all airlines from a list of 13 countries. It isn't clear whether the ban affects electronic devices used by the aircraft's crew, for example the "electronic flight bag" used by the flight crew, which typically include a tablet.
The affected airlines have just 96 hours to comply.
Common Dreams reports
Speaking to CNBC on Monday [May 22], [Commerce Secretary Wilbur] Ross, who accompanied Trump on the weekend trip to Riyadh, said he found it "fascinating" that he did not see "a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there. Not one guy with a bad placard".
[...] Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in the Center for Middle East Policy, told CNBC afterwards that Saudi Arabia is among the "most repressive" of free speech in the Middle East, adding: "Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy which forbids any political protest or any manifestation of dissent. It is also a police state that beheads opponents."
In Why Were the Saudi Streets So Quiet?, also via Common Dreams, Medea Benjamin adds:
Protest is illegal in the kingdom. It's also against the law to "distort the reputation of the kingdom" or "break allegiance with the ruler". A 2014 anti-terrorism law treats virtually all free expression as acts of terrorism, including "calling for atheist thought"; "contacting groups or individuals opposed to the Kingdom"; and "seeking to disrupt national unity" by calling for protests. People who dare dissent are publicly flogged, tortured in prison, and sometimes publicly beheaded.
U.S. technology and engineering conglomerate GE said on Saturday it had signed $15 billion of business deals with Saudi Arabia as part of the kingdom's drive to diversify its economy beyond oil.
It came as dozens of senior U.S. business executives met Saudi counterparts at a conference coinciding with the visit of President Donald Trump to Riyadh.
[...] Among the projects, GE will help make Saudi power generation more efficient and provide digital technology to the operations of oil firm Saudi Aramco, aiming to create $4 billion of annual productivity improvements at Aramco. It will cooperate in medical research and training.
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