On Tuesday, the UAE said it suspended talks with the US over a $23 billion arms deal for F-35 warplanes, Reaper drones, and missiles over restrictions Washington wants to place on the equipment.
The UAE’s embassy in Washington said it would “suspend discussions” with the US on the sale, although a senior UAE delegation is visiting the Pentagon Wednesday for two days of talks, and the matter is still expected to be discussed.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the UAE is threatening to pull out of the deal over security requirements the US wants in order to protect the F-35 technology from China. The US is actively discouraging its allies in the Middle East from expanding ties with China.
The rare dispute between the US and the UAE also comes soon after Abu Dhabi sent a high-level official to Iran in a sign of warming ties. Israel, which normalized with the UAE last year, was upset over the visit, and it’s possible the US might want guarantees from the UAE over its relationship with Iran.
Earlier this month, the UAE inked a deal with France for 80 Rafale warplanes, a sign that Abu Dhabi could look elsewhere for advanced weaponry. But the UAE’s embassy said the US is still its preferred arms supplier. “The US 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.
The US State Department told Middle East Eye that the Biden administration is still committed to pushing the deal through. A State Department spokesperson said the US is “hopeful that we can work through any outstanding issues, and we look forward to the US-UAE Joint Military Dialogue later this week.”
First approved by the Trump administration, the $23 billion deal was Abu Dhabi’s reward for normalizing relations with Israel. After a review, the Biden administration announced its intention to go through with the sale.