U.S. and Qatar sign preliminary arms sales agreement valued at $12 billion

The preliminary agreement for the sale of dozens of F-15 jet fighters comes amid escalating tensions between leading Arab countries

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, center, at the Al Udeid air base in Qatar in April.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, center, at the Al Udeid air base in Qatar in April. PHOTO: JONATHAN ERNST/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

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Updated June 14, 2017 7:53 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—The U.S. and Qatar signed a preliminary agreement for the sale of dozens of Boeing Co. F-15 jet fighters to the Persian Gulf monarchy, in a transaction that risks further ensnaring the Trump administration in an escalating dispute between leading Arab countries.

Qatar’s Defense Ministry valued the contract at $12 billion and said it would create 60,000 American jobs.

The preliminary deal was signed at the Pentagon on Wednesday by U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and his Qatari counterpart, Khalid al-Attiyah, said U.S. and Qatari officials.

“This agreement underscores the longstanding commitment of the State of Qatar in jointly working with our friends and allies in the United States in advancing our military cooperation,” Qatar’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Arab countries severed diplomatic relations with Qatar last week, and sealed their air and land borders, after charging the gas-rich emirate of financing terrorism and promoting extremist ideologies.

Qatar is home to the Al Udeid air base, the largest U.S. military facility in the Middle East. American energy and defense companies have major investments in the country.

The dispute between U.S. allies has placed the Trump administration in a diplomatic bind and resulted in conflicting statements coming out of Washington.

President Donald Trump has appeared in recent days to side with Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., publicly accusing Qatar of financing terrorism at the “highest levels.” At the same time, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called for easing of the Arab states’ economic squeeze on Qatar and offered to mediate the dispute.

In private, U.S. officials have said the Trump administration is trying to take an evenhanded approach.

A senior administration official on Wednesday said the Boeing sale has been in the works for a long period of time and officials realized a White House move to block the deal, or slow its progress, would have appeared as an attempt to undermine Doha.

“We want to try and reintegrate Qatar amongst its neighbors,” said the U.S. official. “Obviously, blocking it would have made the opposite statement.”

The Obama administration last year first approved the possible sale of 72 F-15s for an estimated $21.1 billion, a deal which would keep the Boeing production line in St. Louis moving into the next decade after a previous dearth of new deals had threatened its closure. Mr. Trump has prioritized generating American jobs as part of his foreign-policy approach.

A completed deal had come into question following the sanctions imposed against Qatar last week, said people involved in the process.

Boeing claimed it had secured $50 billion in potential sales of jets, helicopters, munitions and other equipment to Saudi Arabia during Mr. Trump’s recent state visit to the kingdom. The U.A.E., another big Boeing customer, backs Qatar’s isolation.

Qatar didn’t detail Wednesday how many planes were involved in the current negotiations, though analysts had expected them to acquire an initial 36, with a potential follow-on deal for another 36.

The proposed deal is a government-to-government negotiation, and a letter of agreement would entail the start of Pentagon talks with Boeing to facilitate a sale.

Boeing declined to comment.

Tensions between Qatar and its neighbors have shown little sign of easing in recent days.

Saudi and Emirati officials said they are considering more sanctions against Doha. And they have so far rebuffed Mr. Tillerson’s calls to soften their approach.

The U. A.E’s ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, on Tuesday suggested that the U.S. consider moving its operations out of Qatar. He said the facility provides the country’s ruling family leverage against the U.S. and its other allies.

Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. have charged Qatar of providing funds to al Qaeda-linked groups fighting in Syria and Libya. They also accuse Qatar’s Al Jazeera television network of promoting radical ideologies across the Mideast. Qatar and Al Jazeera have denied those charges.

“Maybe someone in Congress should have a hearing and just say, you know, ‘Should we consider moving it?’” Mr. Otaiba said of Al Udeid. “And maybe not moving the entire base. Maybe just distribute to various countries so you don’t have all your eggs in one basket.”

Write to Jay Solomon at jay.solomon@wsj.com and Doug Cameron at doug.cameron@wsj.com

Appeared in the June 15, 2017, print edition as ‘U.S., Qatar Sign F-15 Agreement.’

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One Response to “U.S. and Qatar sign preliminary arms sales agreement valued at $12 billion”

  1. daveyone1 Says:

    Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.

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