UAE suspends discussions on $23bn weapons deal with US | Military News

Weapons deal reached during ex-President Donald Trump’s administration includes sale of advanced F-35 aircraft to UAE.

The United Arab Emirates is suspending discussions with the United States on a $23bn weapons deal that includes advanced F-35 aircraft, the Emirati embassy in Washington, DC has announced.

In a statement on Tuesday, the embassy said the UAE would “suspend discussions” on the sale, while meetings at the Pentagon scheduled for later this week between the two sides would proceed as planned.

“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 embassy said.

A UAE official also told the Reuters news agency in a statement on Tuesday that “technical requirements, sovereign operational restrictions, and cost/benefit analysis led to the re-assessment” of the agreement.

Former US President Donald Trump’s administration first announced the $23bn arms deal with the Emirati government last year. It is linked to the so-called “Abraham Accords“, which saw the UAE – as well as Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan – agree to normalise relations with Israel.

The $23.37bn package contained 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.

An effort to block the deal failed to pass in the US Senate in December, after some lawmakers – including leading members of President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party – raised concerns the weapons could worsen regional conflicts, notably in Yemen, where years of war have caused a humanitarian crisis.

Despite widespread criticism from rights groups and arms control advocates in the US, a US Department of State official said in April that the Biden administration would move forward with the proposed sales to the UAE.

The official also said the administration would “continue reviewing details and consulting with Emirati officials” related to the use of the weapons.

On Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the US partnership with the UAE was more strategic and complex than a weapons sale and Washington was committed to working with Abu Dhabi to address their questions.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, inspects the open cockpit of an F-35 Lightning II during the 2021 Dubai Airshow in November [File: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP]

“We will always insist, as a matter of statutory requirements and policy, on a variety of end-use requirements,” said Kirby, telling reporters that those requirements on the use of American-made military equipment “are universal, non-negotiable, and not specific to the UAE”.

Kirby said meetings later this week between US and Emirati officials would touch on broad topics, but that the weapons sale would likely come up. He referred questions about details of specific arms sales to the Department of State.

The Department of State said in a statement 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”.

A Department of State official also told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the Biden administration remained “hopeful that we can work through any outstanding issues”.

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