U.S. State Department approves potential sale of 3,000 smart bombs to Saudi Arabia

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. State Department has approved the potential sale of 3,000 precision guided munitions to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in a deal valued at up to $290 million, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

The sale comes in the final days of U.S. President Donald Trump’s term. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the Middle East’s biggest buyer of American weapons, in a bid to pressure Riyadh to end a war in Yemen that has caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The package would include 3,000 GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb I (SDB I) munitions, containers, support equipment, spares and technical support, the Pentagon said.

“The proposed sale will improve Saudi Arabia’s capability to meet current and future threats by increasing its stocks of long-range, precision air-to-ground munitions,” the Pentagon said in a statement. It added that “the size and accuracy of the SDB I allows for an effective munition with less collateral damage.”

The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of the possible sale on Tuesday. Members of Congress have been angered by steep civilian casualties in Yemen and earlier this year tried and failed to block the sale of F-35 warplanes to Riyadh.

If Congress cannot block the munition sale, the Biden administration should do so when it takes office, William Hartung, the Director of the Arms and Security Program at the Center for International Policy, said in a statement. Adding, “it is particularly concerning that the Trump administration is trying to ram through these controversial deals when it has less than a month left in office.”

Despite approval by the State Department, the notification does not indicate that a contract has been signed or that negotiations have concluded.

The Pentagon said Boeing Co was the prime contractor for the weapons.

Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington, D.C.; Editing by Dan Grebler and Chizu Nomiyama