US ready to sell F-35 jets to UAE, Blinken says

The Biden administration has set stringent conditions on the agreement, causing a delay in the deal

An F-35 fighter jet arrives at the Vermont Air National Guard base in South Burlington, Vt. , Sept.  19, 2019. AP
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that his country was ready to sell F-35 fighter jets to the UAE, which has threatened to scrap the deal over stringent conditions.

The $23 billion arms package was supported by former president Donald Trump.

President Joe Biden has, however, pledged greater oversight by the US over the sales of the stealth war planes.

The UAE warned on Tuesday it would pull out of the agreement over new conditions set by the Biden administration, citing sovereignty concerns.

But on Wednesday, Mr Blinken said during a visit to Malaysia: “We remain prepared to move forward… if that is what the Emiratis are interested in doing”.

Asked about the conditions the US has set, he did not give precise details.

According to Reuters, he said 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.

US ally Israel had historically objected to Arab states obtaining the F-35s, seeking to maintain its regional advantage.

But Israel gave its go-ahead after the Abraham Accords were agreed, whereby the UAE and Israel established official ties.

The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the impasse, said that the US was insisting on conditions to ensure F-35 technology could not be transferred. The UAE has repeatedly said it would ensure the protection of the technology.

F-35s are prized for stealth capabilities and versatility with the capacity to gather intelligence, strike deep into enemy territory and engage in air duels.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a UAE official told The National on Tuesday that discussions over the sale, part of a $23 billion deal that also includes drones and other advanced munitions, are on hold as the country reassesses requirements.

“The UAE has informed the US that it will suspend discussions to acquire the F-35,” the official said.

“Technical requirements, sovereign operational restrictions and cost-benefit analysis led to the reassessment.”

The UAE and US will hold a dialogue on later today, where it is expected that these issues could be discussed.

“The UAE and the US were working towards an understanding that would address mutual defence security conditions for the acquisition. The US remains the UAE’s preferred provider for advanced defence requirements and discussions for the F-35 may be reopened in the future,” the official said.

Updated: December 16, 2021, 1:14 PM