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Britain to Sell Jets to Saudis Despite Conduct of Yemen War

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On Thursday, Prime Minister Theresa May and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reached an agreement designed to generate $90 million in trade and investment between the two countries.Credit Will Oliver/EPA, via Shutterstock

LONDON — On the last day of a visit by the Saudi crown prince, Britain approved the sale of 48 highly advanced fighter jets to Saudi Arabia on Friday, brushing aside calls for an embargo over the kingdom’s role in Yemen’s civil war.

Human rights and arms control groups have mounted a publicity campaign and protests to stop the sale of British arms to Saudi Arabia, alleging that they are used in Yemen to kill innocent civilians. This week, the group Save the Children placed a statue of a child in a bombed-out building, looking fearfully up at the sky outside Parliament to protest the war.

But during the three-day visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the British government made clear that its agenda was to promote commerce and good relations, not to criticize the Saudi government. On Thursday, Prime Minister Theresa May and the crown prince reached an agreement designed to generate $90 million in trade and investment between the two countries.

Britain to Sell Jets to Saudis Despite Conduct of Yemen War
Britain to Sell Jets to Saudis Despite Conduct of Yemen War

Announcement of the agreement to sell the Typhoon jets came from BAE Systems, the aerospace company set to produce the aircraft, and not from either government.

The UK Government has signed a Memorandum of Intent with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to aim to finalise discussions for the purchase of 48 Typhoon Aircraft. This is a positive step towards agreeing a contract for our valued partner…. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/jLHkiCgwfP

— BAE Systems (@BAESystemsplc) March 9, 2018

As expected, the news came just after a meeting between the crown prince, who has rapidly consolidated his power and sidelined rivals, and Britain’s defense minister, Gavin Williamson.

The agreement signed, known as a memorandum of intent, is preliminary. But defense analysts said that working out the details for a final agreement should not be a difficult or lengthy process. The price was not clear. But a deal reached in December for BAE to produce 24 Typhoons for Qatar was valued at almost $7 billion.

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