WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is negotiating the sale of at least four sophisticated large aerial drones to Morocco, according to three U.S. sources familiar with the negotiations, and is expected to discuss the deal with members of Congress in the coming days.
The sources did not indicate whether the deal, which has been in the works for several months, was related to the agreement brokered with U.S. help for Morocco to normalize relations with Israel.
While the State Department has authorized the sale of the unmanned aerial vehicles, the sources said, it was not known if the U.S. officials have approved exporting the drones with weapons attached, two of the people said.
The deal must be approved by members of Congress, who may receive notification as soon as Friday, one of the people said. Congress could block a final agreement but that was not expected, two of the people said.
The four MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones made by General Atomics have a range of 6,000 nautical miles (11,100 km) and could survey huge swaths of sea and desert.
A deal with Morocco would be among the first drone sale after President Donald Trump’s administration moved ahead with its plan to sell more drones to more countries by reinterpreting an international arms control agreement called the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).
Following the Trump administration’s reinterpretation of the MTCR, U.S. Senators introduced legislation that would block the export, transfer or trade of many advanced drones to countries that are not close U.S. allies. Sales would be allowed to NATO members, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan and Israel.
Still, this fall drone sales moved ahead to Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates. The UAE sale drew criticism from some members of the U.S. Senate.
The U.S. State Department and Morocco’s Washington embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Reporting by Mike Stone and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Chris Sanders and Alistair Bell
While U.S. laws prohibit such weapon sales to invading armies, Trump's unilateral decision to back Morocco's sovereignty claim over Western Sahara reframes the conflict as a civil war, and different rules apply.
The cost of the sale should amount to around $190 million (=€160 million). One flying hour should cost around $6,000 [=€5,000, MAD 52,000]