UAE expects Biden review of F-35s deal

Ambassador to Washington Yousef Al Otaiba says temporary pause a typical part of transition between US administrations

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The UAE said that a decision by President Joe Biden to review a deal for F-35 stealth fighters was anticipated and that both countries would work closely to promote Middle East peace and stability.

Yousef Al Otaiba, the ambassador to the United States and minister of state, said the temporary pause on the sales is a normal part of the process when there is a change in administrations in Washington.

“As in previous transitions, the UAE anticipated a review of current policies by the new administration. Specifically, the F-35 package is much more than selling military hardware to a partner,” he said via the embassy account on Twitter.

Mr Al Otaiba welcomed “joint efforts to de-escalate tensions and for renewed regional dialogue", and said that “the UAE will work closely with the Biden administration on a comprehensive approach to Middle East peace and stability”.

He described the F-35s sale as one that “allows the UAE to maintain a strong deterrent to aggression. In parallel with new dialogue and security co-operation, it helps to reassure regional partners”.

“It also enables the UAE to take on more of the regional burden for collective security, freeing US assets for other global challenges, a long-time bipartisan US priority.

“With the same equipment and training, US and UAE forces are more effective together when and where it matters,” Mr Al Otaiba said.

The Trump administration announced the deal for 50 F-35s as part of a $23 billion package, shortly after the UAE agreed to the Abraham Accord and the normalisation of relations with Israel.

The review of the sales to the UAE as well as a separate deal with Saudi Arabia was called typical by new US Secretary of State Tony Blinken.

"It is typical at the start of a new administration to review any pending arms sales," Mr Blinken said on Wednesday, while reiterating Washington's support for the Abraham Accord.

"This is a routine administrative action typical to most any transition, and demonstrates this administration's commitment to transparency and good governance, as well as ensuring US arms sales meet our strategic objectives of building stronger, interoperable, and more capable security partners," a State Department official told The National.

He emphasised that the hold on the deal is temporary without indicating a timeline on when it might be removed.

“The department is temporarily pausing the implementation of some pending US defence transfers and sales ... to allow incoming leadership an opportunity to review.”

In his confirmation hearing, Mr Blinken said the Biden administration supports the Abraham Accord.

“I support the Abraham Accord. I applaud the work that was done to achieve them,” he said.

He also said that the administration will be reviewing some of the commitments made in the agreements.

“There are certain commitments that may have been made in the context of getting those countries to normalise relations with Israel that I think we should take a hard look at.”

Democrats in Congress attempted to block the sale in December but failed to do so by a 47-49 vote in the Senate.

The US and the UAE finalised a formal letter of agreement for the deal on Tuesday – the last full day of Mr Trump’s presidency – according to Reuters.

The letter of agreement is typically the last major bureaucratic step in the lengthy arms sale process before US defence contractors begin manufacturing the weapons systems.