May 13, 2015 / 1:21 AM / 4 years ago

U.S. experts may travel to Gulf to look at expediting arms sales

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and its allies in the Gulf will discuss ways to expedite weapons sales during high-level meetings in Washington this week, followed by a likely trip to the region by a team of U.S. arms sales experts, U.S. and Gulf officials said on Tuesday.

Streamlining and accelerating sales of critical weapons will be a key topic during the summit, which is aimed at boosting security cooperation with Gulf Cooperation Council members.

President Barack Obama is expected to make a push to help its Gulf allies create a regionwide defense system to guard against Iranian missiles in hopes of allaying their anxieties over any nuclear deal with Tehran. Obama will be hosting the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council at the White House and then at Camp David. [ID:nL1N0XX041]

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters on Monday that he expected deeper, formalized discussions on speeding up work on an integrated missile defense system and expediting transfers of weapons to GCC members.

Al-Jubeir said GCC countries had already received many sophisticated U.S. weapons, but those transfers could be eased by elevating the status of Gulf countries to that of “major non-NATO allies” or other measures, including executive agreements.

“When we have the policy in place, which I think we will ... then we can look at the instruments .. to ensure the policy objectives are going to be met,” he said.

Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, on Monday said officials would review which specific capabilities were needed to beef up missile defense, cybersecurity, counterterrorism, and other threats.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates are already upgrading their existing Raytheon Co Patriot missile defense systems to incorporate new PAC-3 missiles built by Lockheed Martin Corp.

UAE is also buying Lockheed’s longer-range Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.

Qatar could wrap up a similar deal worth up to $6.5 billion by early next year, and Saudi Arabia may follow suit in coming years, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

Saudi Arabia is also considering a multibillion-dollar project to modernize its eastern naval fleet, a project that could include new MH-60R helicopters built by United Technologies Corp and Lockheed, and smaller ships based on the U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship.

Initial announcements about the Saudi naval program could come in late summer, although the exact timing of foreign arms sales is often hard to predict, said one of the sources.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Warren Strobel; Editing by Diane Craft

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