Saudi Arabia does not appear to have paid the $1 billion that President Donald Trump said it has paid to house a deployment of US troops to the kingdom, according to the Pentagon.
Trump had previously touted Saudi Arabia’s financial contribution, telling Fox News last week, “I said, listen, you’re a very rich country. You want more troops? I’m going to send them to you, but you’ve got to pay us. They’re paying us. They’ve already deposited $1 billion in the bank.”
But the Pentagon says discussions about how Saudi Arabia can help pay for the cost of the US military deployment there are ongoing.
“The Saudi government has agreed to contribute to the costs of these activities, and discussions are ongoing to formalize these contributions. Contributions of this nature do not lead to the deployment of additional U.S. forces, and they do not drive DOD to take on new missions or responsibilities,” Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich told CNN in a statement.
“While we will not comment on specific bilateral defense agreements, more broadly the United States encourages burden-sharing among partners in support of shared security interests, to include defense of the Arabian Gulf,” a State Department official said.
The US has deployed thousands of additional US troops and missile defense batteries to Saudi Arabia in response to what Pentagon officials have said is an increased threat from Iran.
The US and several European nations have blamed Iran for a missile attack that targeted Saudi energy facilities, temporarily affecting the country’s ability to produce oil.
The military buildup has come despite Trump repeatedly claiming that he wants to reduce the US military commitment in the Middle East, a pledge that he cited when he ordered the reduction of US troops in Syria, a move that received broad bipartisan opposition in Congress, as many lawmakers see it as an abandonment of America’s partner in the fight against ISIS, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
Asked about Trump’s comments Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said the payments the President referenced were referring to the concept of “burden-sharing.”
“Burden sharing comes in many forms,” Esper told CBS on Sunday, later adding that “it includes host nation support. It includes foreign military cells. It includes providing troops on the ground, and, in cases, it provides helping to offset some of our operations maintenance costs, which the Saudis are committed to doing, just as they did offset costs during the 1990 and ’91 Gulf War.”
Saudi Arabia has also not reimbursed the US for the cost of aerial refueling operations that the US military provided to Saudi warplanes.
The US stopped providing aerial refueling to Saudi jets participating in its campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen in November of 2018.
In December 2018, the US military said it was seeking a $331 million reimbursement from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates after discovering it had failed to properly charge the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen for aerial refueling services.
More than a year later, the Saudis have still not paid that bill.
“The process of reimbursement is ongoing and we continue to expect full reimbursement of refueling expenses. I am not going to be able to provide specifics on the reimbursement process,” Rebarich, the Pentagon spokesperson, told CNN.
By Ryan Browne and Barbara Starr, CNN