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UAE suspends talks with US on purchase of F-35 planes, drones worth $23bn


WASHINGTON: The United Arab Emirates suspended talks on a $23 billion deal to purchase American-made F-35 planes, armed drones and other equipment on Tuesday, in a rare dispute between Washington and a key ally in the Gulf.

The Emirati embassy in Washington said it would suspend discussions with the US, though meetings at the Pentagon this week between the two sides on other matters would move forward as planned.

The US remains the UAE’s preferred provider for advanced defence requirements and discussions for the F-35 may be reopened in future, the embassy said in a statement.

The proposed sale of 50 F-35s to the UAE came at the end of former president Donald Trump’s administration, emerging from a deal that saw the Emiratis formally recognise Israel. President Joe Biden’s administration put the deal on hold after he took office, in part due to criticism of the UAE and Saudi Arabia over their role in the conflict in Yemen.

Also included in the deal are 18 advanced drone systems and a package of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions. Emirati officials blamed an American insistence on restrictions on how and where the F-35s could be used and said they were a violation of sovereignty.

The State Department said in a statement that the administration remained 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”.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters that US requirements on the use of American-made military equipment were universal, non-negotiable, and not specific to the UAE. The US partnership with the UAE is more strategic and more complex than any one weapon sale, Kirby said.

A person familiar with the matter said the US believed the Emiratis’ move now was a negotiating tactic to try to move the process along. The person said the UAE letter notifying the US of the suspension was written by a relatively low-level official.

The Wall Street Journal first disclosed the suspension of negotiations.

The UAE has long worked with the US on counter-terrorism and allowed the entry of people fleeing Afghanistan during the chaotic US withdrawal earlier this year. But tensions between Washington and Abu Dhabi have risen over the UAE’s growing cooperation with China.

Last week, a top Emirati diplomat acknowledged the UAE stopped construction on a Chinese facility at an Abu Dhabi port that America considered a military base. The Journal first revealed the presence of the alleged facility.

“We took these American concerns into consideration and we stopped the work on the facilities,” the diplomat, Anwar Gargash, told a meeting of the Gulf States Instit­ute in Washington.

Published in Dawn, December 15th, 2021

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