External Affairs

Selling Arms and Fighting Terror: A Balance Sheet of Trump’s Saudi Visit

Agreements worth $350 billion were signed, including an immediate arms sale of over $110 billion, as the two countries condemned Iran and vowed to fight terrorism throughout the region.

US President Donald Trump gestures as Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) stands next to him during a reception ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 20, 2017. Credit: Reuters

US President Donald Trump gestures as Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) stands next to him during a reception ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 20, 2017. Credit: Reuters

There was a party fit for a (literal) king, a gold medal and a whole lot of red carpet as the US president made his first foreign trip as part of a week-long stretch that including visits to Israel, the West Bank, the Vatican, Brussels and Italy.

The location for the president’s first foreign trip was to Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). The president was greeted by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and members of the Royal family, including Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, the first and second in line to the throne respectively.

The President Donald Trump arrived with his wife Melania and a cadre of family and white house advisors. The top brass of the Trump administration included former CEO of Exxon Mobile and now secretary of state Rex Tillerson, commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, former Breitbart alt-right news founder turned White House chief strategist Steve Bannon,White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, former Goldman Sachs exec turned chief economic advisor to the president Gary Cohn, senior advisor to the president (and Trump’s son-in-law) Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

Following an opening day of festivities, day two saw the signing of financial agreements estimated at $350 billion that will play out over the next ten years between US companies and top members of the KSA. Large weapons contracts were signed with the heads of military defence firms Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Technologies and General Dynamics. CEOs from top US multinational’s including Exxon Mobile, KKR Private Equity Group, General Electric, Haliburton, Cisco, Dow Chemicals and others followed the president to ink deals with the Al Saud family and its conglomerates, as the KSA looks to diversify its economy in its McKinsey-inspired Vision 2030 plan, an ambitious programme led by 31-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, second in line to the throne.

Vision 2030 is a combination of westernisation, privatisation and diversification, through which the KSA hopes to move away from its historically petro-based economy to diversify investments in technology and education, and develop the country’s non-petro natural resources. The plan calls for an incremental expansion of women’s rights as well as a balanced budget. Vision 2030 also includes rumours of a 5-10% public offering of the kingdom’s state-run oil behemoth, Saudi Aramco, which some estimate as the most valuable state-run company in the world.

Following the opening gala and the US-Saudi CEO Summit, the kingdom invited leaders from 55 countries to host the Arab-Islamic-American Summit in which the US president addressed Arab-Islamic leaders and representatives in a speech alongside King Salman. Notably absent from the guest list and openly condemned were the governments of Syria and Iran.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) presents US President Donald Trump with the Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud Medal at the Royal Court in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 20, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) presents US President Donald Trump with the Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud Medal at the Royal Court in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 20, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

In his speech, the US President praised the $110 billion-worth arms sale to the kingdom, citing US defence companies as “the greatest anywhere in the world” in an overt sales pitch to the crowd.

The president called on the Arab Islamic Nations to unite around “the one goal that transcends every other consideration … to conquer extremism and vanquish the forces terrorism.” The president pressed countries to “drive out” terrorists and extremists in the most vocal part of his speech, in which he repeated the phrase “drive them out” seven times, speaking loudly into the microphone.

Near the end of the speech, Trump condemned Iran and their backing of the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, stating:

“Among Iran’s most tragic and destabilising interventions, you’ve seen it in Syria. Bolstered by Iran, Assad has committed unspeakable crimes, and the United States has taken firm action in response to the use of banned chemical weapons by the Assad regime, launching 59 missiles at the Syrian air base from where that murderous attack originated. Responsible nations must work together to end the humanitarian crisis in Syria, eradicate ISIS, and restore stability to the region and as quickly as possible.

The Iranian regime’s longest suffering victims are its own people. Iran has a rich history and culture, but the people of Iran have endured hardship and despair under their leader’s reckless pursuit of conflict and terror. Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate it, deny it, funding for terrorism, cannot do it, and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they so richly deserve.”

The three-day summit signalled strengthened economic and military ties between the KSA and the US, and acted as a sounding board for the two countries to express their grievances against Iran, whose President Hassan Rouhani was re-elected over the weekend to serve a second term.