US Still Ready to Sell F-35s to UAE, Blinken Says After Abu Dhabi Suspends $23 Bln Defence Deal

CC BY-SA 2.0 / James O'Gorman / F-16 fighter jet
F-16 fighter jet - Sputnik International, 1920, 15.12.2021
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The US approved the sale of 50 F-35 fighter jets, 18 Reaper drones, and other high-grade military equipment to the UAE in January 2021, months after the previous Trump administration brokered the Abraham Accords, which led to the normalisation of ties between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv. The UAE already operates F-16 fighter jets.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday said that Washington was still willing to move ahead with the sale of F-35 joint strike fighter jets as well as MQ-9B "Reaper" drones to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
He was addressing a joint press conference with his Malaysian counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah in Kuala Lumpur.
The deal, which passed US Congressional review in December of last year, was valued at $23 billion.

"We remain committed to move forward with (the sales of) both (F-35 jets and drones) if that's what the Emiratis are interested in doing. We want to make sure, for example, that our commitment to Israel's qualitative military edge is assured so we wanted to do a full review of any technologies that are sold or transferred to other partners in the region, including the UAE", said the top American diplomat.

He was responding to a question on the terms of the offer by the US that caused the UAE to "pull back" from the defence deal.

"… I think we continue to be prepared to move forward if the UAE wants to pursue…both of these systems", Blinken added. The US secretary of state is currently on a four-nation visit to the UK, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, before he flies to Honolulu to meet the chief of the US Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM).
Lockheed's F-35 features some of the most advanced autopilot technology available. - Sputnik International, 1920, 14.12.2021
UAE Reportedly Pauses Talks With US to Buy F-35 Stealth Fighters
Blinken's remarks come a day after Abu Dhabi formally conveyed the decision to suspend negotiations in the $23 billion defence deal, as per the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC.
The statement from the embassy added that negotiations for the F-35 contract may be "reopened" in the future.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said that the issue of F-35 sales could be discussed at a military dialogue between officials from the two nations that is set to take place in the US on Wednesday.

"We will always insist, as a matter of statutory requirements and policy, on a variety of end-user requirements. That's typical. And these end-user requirements and protection of US defence equipment are universal, non-negotiable, and not specific to the UAE", Kirby said at a press briefing on Tuesday.

He was responding to a question about the suspended defence deal.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that the terms of sale for the military equipment were described by the Gulf monarchy as being too "onerous".
The US has reportedly been concerned about Beijing's growing influence in the UAE and is reported to have put strict conditions on the defence deal to shield the American equipment from Chinese surveillance.
The UAE is a key American partner and the only Arab state to have participated in six US-led international military operations in the last 30 years, including in facilitating the exit of western troops from Afghanistan this year.
Yet, Abu Dhabi's growing cooperation with Beijing has led to some friction in the relationship.
The Wall Street Journal reported last month that work on an upcoming Chinese "military base" in the UAE's Khalifa was suspended after an intervention by top officials from the Biden administration.
Anwar Gargash, a diplomatic adviser to Emirati President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, confirmed at an event last week that his government had halted construction on the site.

"We took these American concerns into consideration and we stopped the work on the facilities", stated Gargash. He, however, added that the Chinese-built facility wasn't meant to be a "military base".

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