July 13, 2018 / 5:49 PM / a month ago

Dutch plan to sign Reaper drone deal next week - sources

LONDON, July 13 (Reuters) - The Netherlands plans to sign an agreement to buy four unmanned Reaper drones next week, two people familiar with the talks said on Friday, confirming a deal that has been delayed due to budgetary constraints.

A Letter of Agreement for the surveillance drones could be signed next week at the Farnborough International Airshow outside London, the people said on condition of anonymity because the talks are confidential.

The deal for the MQ-9 Reaper drones, made by California-based General Atomics, was first approved by the U.S. State Department back in 2015, when it had a value of $339 million.

The air show is typically marked by a race for commercial plane orders between Boeing Co and Airbus, but this year U.S. President Donald Trump is pushing a “Buy American” initiative aiming at drumming up billions of dollars in arms sales for U.S. companies.

In April, the Trump administration rolled out a modification of its international arms sale policy making it easier to sell U.S. made weapons to allies.

Still, the people said that the sale of the four Reapers, associated equipment, parts and logistical support was not related to the new policy initiative.

The Dutch government said the intent to purchase was announced in 2016 as part of the Medium Altitude Long Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle program. The deal was opposed by some Dutch lawmakers on July 5.

“We are going to purchase four Reapers. A letter was recently sent to parliament. The letter of agreement is the final hurdle,” Dutch Defence Ministry spokesman Peter Valstar said. He said the delay was not due to political opposition but budgetary reasons and that the order is now being fast-tracked.

General Atomics was not immediately available for comment

Speaking after a NATO summit on Thursday, Trump said he was ready to help smaller NATO countries buy U.S. weapons as he pushed them to spend more on their own defense.

Trump claimed a personal victory at the summit after telling European allies to increase spending or lose Washington’s support. (Reporting by Mike Stone in London Additional reporting by Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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