WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has been hesitant to jeopardize U.S. arms deals with Saudi Arabia even as outrage grows over the disappearance of journalist and Saudi royal family critic Jamal Khashoggi.
Saudi Arabia is America's No. 1 weapons buyer. Between 2013 and 2017, Riyadh accounted for 18 percent of total U.S. arms sales or about $9 billion, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
But a closer look reveals that the sales aren't quite as big as Trump has boasted. The president recently praised Riyadh's ambitions to buy $110 billion worth of U.S.-made arms. But that money hasn't come through yet, according to State Department or Defense Security Cooperation Agency announcements.
The president has cited the importance of the nations' relationship, pushing back on potentially slapping retaliatory sanctions on Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi's fate. Saudi Arabia's oil-rich monarchy is one of America's most crucial strategic partners in the Middle East and a significant patron of U.S. defense companies.
"I tell you what I don't want to do," Trump said to CBS' "60 Minutes" on Sunday, when asked about blocking arms sales to Riyadh. "Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, all these [companies]. I don't want to hurt jobs. I don't want to lose an order like that. There are other ways of punishing, to use a word that's a pretty harsh word, but it's true."