Biden administration notifies Congress of $650m missile sale to Saudi Arabia

State Department says sale will replenish missiles used to intercept Houthi drone attacks

FILE PHOTO: A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched during a successful intercept test, in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency.  U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency/Handout via Reuters/File Photo  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
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President Joe Biden's administration on Thursday notified Congress of a proposed $650 million missile sale to Saudi Arabia in response to continued drone attacks launched against the kingdom by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The $650m sale consists of 280 medium-range, air-to-air missiles, which the State Department says will be used to replenish the stock of missiles used to intercept Houthi drones.

“We’ve seen an increase in cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia over the past year,” a State Department representative said upon announcing the sale.

“Saudi AIM-120C missiles, deployed from Saudi aircraft, have been instrumental in intercepting the persistent [drone] attacks that have put US forces at risk and threatened the more than 70,000 US citizens in the kingdom.”

The State Department representative emphasised that the missiles would not be used against ground targets and that the sale is “in keeping with the president’s commitment to support the territorial defence of Saudi Arabia".

Mr Biden said this year that he is ending US support for the Saudi-led campaign against Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

This included the suspension of an arms sale to Saudi Arabia negotiated under the administration of former president Donald Trump, which included precision-guided munitions.

And while Mr Biden has begun to remove US troops and anti-missile batteries that Mr Trump had stationed in Saudi Arabia, he has also pledged to continue supporting the Saudi military's defensive operations.

At the same time, the Biden administration has sought to broker a ceasefire between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi rebels.

The Houthis have so far refused to accept the Saudi-proposed ceasefire and have continued the offensive on Yemen’s oil-rich Marib province, the last stronghold of the internationally recognised Yemeni government.

The Saudis have launched strikes against Houthi targets in Marib in recent weeks.

The Biden administration in September also notified Congress of a $500m sale to Riyadh to maintain US-made helicopters that the kingdom has already purchased.

Prince Turki Al Faisal publicly questioned the Biden administration’s commitment to its Gulf partners during virtual remarks at the Atlantic Council this week.

“The US-GCC countries’ relationship is imperative to peace and stability in the region,” Prince Turki said.

“I call on Mr Biden to weigh carefully any steps he takes that impact this historical bond and rather build on it to have a new security structure for the region.”

Updated: November 05, 2021, 6:29 AM