RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- Saudi Arabia has confirmed that its talks with the United States for a defense deal worth $60 billion were on track and near conclusion.
"Talks are continuing according to the agenda and part of it is the purchase of the modified F-15 model," Assistant Defense Minister Khalid bin Sultan said in a report carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.
Prince Khaled bin Sultan also confirmed that the talks were in the final stages of details the Saudi Gazette reported.
The remarks were the first official statements from Riyadh on the massive deal, a pact which the U.S. administration sees as a key component of a broader policy aimed at shoring up Arab allies against Iran.
The massive arms deal marks the single largest sale of weapons to a foreign nation in the history of the United States and supplies the Saudi Arabian kingdom with a fully modernized and powerful new air force.
In all, the deal calls for the sale of 84 new F-15s and upgrades to Saudi Arabia's existing fleet of 70 F-15s. The F-15, developed by McDonnell Douglas, has been manufactured by Boeing since it took over McDonnell Douglas.
The deal will include 72 Black Hawk helicopters built by Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp., plus 70 of Boeing's Apache attack helicopters and 36 of its AH-6M Little Birds, while power for aircraft and helicopters will be provided by General Electric Co. F-110 and T700 engines.
Some defense industry experts have cautioned that the deal could be smaller. U.S. defense firm, Raytheon, for example has estimated that the deal could finally be worth $25 billion. Even so, it will mark the largest single U.S. arms sale.
The delivery of the weapons to Saudi Arabia is expected to be spread across 15-20 years.
"At a time when nearly 1-in-10 U.S. workers is unemployed," the Voice of America reported, "the Obama administration also sees the deal as creating new American jobs."
It said negotiations were under way for naval and ballistic missile defense upgrades that could add tens of billions of dollars in additional sales.
Some U.S. lawmakers have been critical of the deal, demanding more investigation of details of the potential sale.
The United States and the oil-rich Saudi kingdom have long enjoyed a strategic alliance but ties have been strained in recent years over Arab-Israeli diplomacy.
U.S. officials say a final agreement with Riyadh could "kick off arms sales to five other countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates -- who are worried about retaliatory strikes in the event of war," The Wall Street Journal reported.
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