Saudi Arabia's defence minister revealed on Wednesday that the kingdom is close to making a deal, to be worth up to 17 billion US dollars, to buy fighter aircraft from Britain.
"God willing, we hope to conclude in the near future a deal for modern planes with Britain," Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz told after talks with his British counterpart John Reid, who was visiting the kingdom.
Sources close to the negotiations said Saudi Arabia is likely to buy at least 48 Eurofighter Typhoon jets, with an option to raise the number to 72. There is speculation the deal may be finalised and signed after Reid meets King Abdullah later on Wednesday.
The Eurofighters are made by a multi-national consortium which includes British aerospace company BAE Systems, the European aerospace group EADS and Finmeccanica from Italy. The shares of all three companies rose on news of the imminent deal.
In the 1980s Saudi Arabia signed a major arms for oil deal with Britain known as the 'Al-Yamamah [The Dove] Offset Programme', to supply the kingdom with fighter planes, artillery and other equipment, under which BAE Systems was the main contractor.
Britain's Guardian newspaper reported in September that the two countries had been holding secret talks over the deal - something the Saudi defence minister later denied - but said the negotiations had stalled because the Saudis were demanding three favours: the long sought-after deportation of Saudi dissidents Saad al-Faqih and Mohammed al-Masari from Britain; the resumption of British Airways flights to Riyadh, which were cancelled due to security fears; and the dropping of a British corruption investigation into BAE and the Saudi royal family, AKI reports.