Lana Hughes and JP Pritchard

White House, Saudi Arabia Sign $30B F-15 Deal

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Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The Obama administration Thursday finalized a $30 billion sale of new Boeing F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia in a deal meant to counteract Iran and support an estimated 50,000 U.S. jobs.

The deal, which was approved by Congress in late 2010, will send 84 advanced F-15SA combat planes to the Royal Saudi Air Force. It also provides for the modernization of 70 existing planes and a cache of munitions, spare parts and other logistical resources, the White House said in a statement.

“This agreement will positively impact the U.S. economy and further advances the president’s commitment to create jobs by increasing exports,” deputy White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in the statement. “According to industry experts, this agreement will support more than 50,000 American jobs, engaging 600 suppliers in 44 states, and providing $3.5 billion in annual economic impact to the U.S. economy.”

The plane package is roughly half of a larger $60 billion deal — the biggest U.S. arms sale to Saudi Arabia ever — that was brokered in September 2010.

In addition to the F-15 aircraft, the United States promised to sell 70 Apache attack helicopters, 72 Black Hawk helicopters, 26 Little Bird helicopters and assorted weapons systems (missiles and bombs) for the aircraft.

At the time, U.S. officials said the main trigger for the deal was Saudi Arabia’s concerns about Iranian threats in the region. Tensions between the United States and Iran have flared in recent days after an Iranian military official threatened to cut off the flow of oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz; the U.S. Navy pledged such a move would not stand.

Saudi Arabia, a longstanding U.S. ally in the region, also supports U.S. and international opposition to Iran’s nuclear program.

“This agreement reinforces the strong and enduring relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a strong Saudi defense capability as a key component to regional security,” Earnest said.

The first new planes are scheduled for delivery in 2015, while the upgrades to the F-15 jets will start in 2014. The United States will also train up to 5,500 Saudi personnel through 2019, officials said.

“This deal sends an important message,” said Anthony Cordesman, a middle east analyst and military expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“This gives Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates really modern combat aircraft that are much more advanced than Iran has,” he said. “Iran cannot feel secure now if it attacks other Gulf Cooperation Council members in the region.”

The Obama administration Thursday also downplayed concerns that the arms sale could undermine Israel’s military superiority in the region.

“All sales to the region must be evaluated for the impact on Israel’s qualitative military edge,” assistant Secretary of State Andrew Schapiro told reporters. “We conducted that assessment, and we are satisfied that this sale to Saudi Arabia will not detriment Israel’s qualitative military edge.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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