Defense

UAE suspending F-35 discussions with US: reports

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The United Arab Emirates is suspending discussions with the United States over a $23 billion deal to purchase about 50 F-35 fighter jets, according to multiple reports.

A UAE official told Reuters that “technical requirements, sovereign operational restrictions, and cost/benefit analysis led to the re-assessment of the deal.”  

“The U.S. remains the UAE’s preferred provider for advanced defense requirements and discussions for the F-35 may be re-opened in the future,” the official told Reuters.

News of the suspension was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.  

A State Department spokesperson told The Hill that the Biden administration “remains committed” to the deal, “even as we continue consultations to ensure that we have a clear, mutual understanding of Emirati obligations and actions before, during, and after delivery.”

The spokesperson added that the agency is “hopeful we can work through any outstanding issues.” 

The deal was officially approved in November 2020 after Abu Dhabi signed onto the Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between the UAE, Israel and Bahrain. 

The deal includes 50 F-35 Lightning II aircraft, as many as 18 MQ-9B unmanned aerial systems, and air-to-air and air-to-ground projectiles.

The State Department paused the sale in January so that it could review the package. In April, the agency decided to move forward, arguing that there would be enough time to address any outstanding concerns because it would be years before the weapons were delivered.  

But the Journal previously reported in May that U.S. officials grew worried that the weapons sale could be impacted by the UAE’s growing ties to China, which sparked concerns that Abu Dhabi might allow China to access the technology.

Meanwhile, the deal has faced criticism from Democrats over the UAE’s conduct in Yemen and Libya.

The UAE’s move also comes before the U.S. and UAE are set to begin conversations at the Pentagon later this week over the scope of the two nations’ defense relationship.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters that the meeting would still happen and that the deal was anticipated to come up.

“The U.S. partnership with the UAE is more strategic and more complex than any one weapon sale,” Kirby said.

The White House referred comment on the deal to the State Department.

The Hill has reached out to the UAE Embassy in Washington and Lockheed Martin, which manufactures the jet, for comment.

Tags F-35 fighter jets John Kirby US-UAE relations

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