Arms purchases from the US are central to the Saudi kingdom's strategy of asserting its military leadership in the Gulf and confronting Iranian influence. This US deal includes significant offensive capabilities – thus the repeated warnings from Tehran about it being "destabilising".
In public the Saudis and their partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council support using diplomatic means to tackle Iran's alleged nuclear ambitions, but express greater concern behind closed doors, diplomats say. Iran insists it seeks only civilian nuclear power, not weapons.
Relations between Washington and Riyadh were badly damaged by the 9/11 attacks and the identification of the Saudi origins of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. But common strategic interests and pressures generated by the arms industry and the recession helped smooth differences. US defence sales to the Gulf doubled from $19bn in 2001-2004 to $40bn in 2005-2008.
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