Yousef al-Otaiba says sale agreed under Trump when UAE established ties with Israel ‘still proceeding’ while undergoing review by Biden administration.
The United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Washington says he is confident the sale of F-35 jets to his country will proceed after a review by the new US administration of some pending arms sales to American allies.
On former President Donald Trump’s last day in office last month, the UAE signed agreements with the US to buy up to 50 stealth F-35 fighters, 18 armed drones, and other defence equipment in a deal worth $23bn.
“We did everything by the book and they will discover that once the review is complete and it will proceed,” Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba told a virtual Washington Institute forum on Monday, describing the review as “pro forma”.
Last month, a US Department of State official said President Joe Biden’s administration was temporarily pausing the implementation of some weapons sales to US allies to review them.
“Everything is still proceeding while undergoing a review at the same time. I am confident it will end up in the right place,” al-Otaiba said.
“If you are going to have less of a presence and less involvement in the Middle East you can’t at the same time take tools away from your partners who are expected to do more,” he said.
‘Dangerous arms race’
The UAE was promised a chance to acquire the F-35 aircraft made by Lockheed Martin in a side deal when it established ties with Israel last August in a US-brokered agreement.
Rights groups denounced the sale, saying it could fuel regional conflict, notably in Libya and in Yemen, where the UAE and Saudi Arabia have waged a devastating war against the country’s Houthi rebels.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the US also criticized the weapons transfer, saying it would “facilitate a dangerous arms race”.
But in December, the Senate rejected attempts to block the transaction, which opponents had said was being rushed through without sufficient assurances the equipment would not fall into the wrong hands, or fuel instability in the Middle East.