A day after the United Arab Emirates (UAE) embassy in Washington DC informed the United States that it will suspend discussions to acquire F-35 fighter jets, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that they are still prepared to continue with the deal. During his visit to Malaysia on Wednesday, Blinken said, “We remain prepared to move forward… if that is what the Emiratis are interested in doing.”
Without providing any precise detail of the conditions set by the US, Blinken said that Washington wanted to ensure that Israel maintains its military edge. “We wanted to make sure that we could do a thorough review of any technologies that are sold or transferred to other partners in the region,” he said.
Earlier, on Tuesday, the UAE embassy in the US said that it will suspend talks on the $23 billion deal that includes procurement of products from General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Technologies, including 50 F-35 Lightning II aircraft, up to 18 MQ-9B Unmanned Aerial Systems and a package of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions. However, the embassy informed that the meetings at Pentagon between the two sides on other issues will proceed as scheduled.
In a statement to Reuters, UAE officials said, “Technical requirements, sovereign operational restrictions, and cost/benefit analysis led to the re-assessment.” Stating that discussions were made to “address mutual defense security conditions for the acquisition”, the official added, “The US remains the UAE’s preferred provider for advanced defense requirements and discussions for the F-35 may be re-opened in the future.”
The arms deal between the UAE and US was first announced by former US President Donald Trump’s administration last year. A person familiar with the negotiation told Reuters that there were concerns on how the stealthy jets can be deployed and how much advantage of the sophisticated F-35 technology the UAE will be able to take.
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Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby had said that the US-UAE partnership is more strategic and complex than a weapon sale, and that Washington is committed to address the UAE’s concerns. Stating that the requirements on the use of American-made military equipment “are universal, non-negotiable, and not specific to the UAE”, Kirby said, “We will always insist, as a matter of statutory requirements and policy, on a variety of end-use requirements.”
The US Department of State also released a statement asserting that the Biden administration “remains committed to the proposed sales … even as we continue consultations to ensure that we have a clear, mutual understanding of Emirati obligations and actions before, during, and after delivery”.