An F-35 pilot prepares for take off from the Vermont Air National Guard Base with the flag of the United States, before a flyover honoring Vermont’s front line coronavirus disease (COVID-19) responders and essential workers in South Burlington, Vermont, US. May 22, 2020. Picture taken May 22, 2020. U.S. Air National Guard/Miss Julie M. Shea/Handout via REUTERS.
In apparent increasing frustration with Washington’s efforts to restrict Chinese technology sales to the oil-rich Gulf state, the United Arab Emirates suspended a multibillion dollar deal on 14 December for the purchase of F-35 fighter jets made by the US.
The Emirati embassy in Washington announced it had suspended talks with the United States, though meetings scheduled for this week between the two sides will go forward as planned.
An Emirati official told CNN that the UAE informed the US of its decision to suspend discussions to acquire the F-35.
The official added that “technical requirements, sovereign operational restrictions, and cost/benefit analysis” led to the re-assessment.
“The UAE and US were working toward an understanding that would address mutual defense security conditions for the acquisition,” the official added. “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.”
However, US officials have said that they are committed to the deal.
The State Department said in a statement that the administration “remains 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.”
“As we recently confirmed at the Dubai Air Show, the Biden-Harris Administration remains committed to the proposed sales of F-35 aircraft, the MQ-9B, and munitions even as we continue consultations to ensure that we have a clear, mutual understanding of Emirati obligations and actions before, during and after delivery,” a state department spokesperson said, as quoted by CNN.
As for the Pentagon, spokesman John Kirby said that Abu Dhabi’s questions are a priority for Washington and the US is committed to addressing them.
In his press conference on 14 December, Kirby said: “The US partnership with the UAE is more strategic and more complex than any one weapons sale.”
He added: “We will always insist, as a matter of statutory requirements and policy, on a variety of end-user requirements. That’s typical.”
He then noted that the end-user requirements and protection of US defense equipment are “universal, non-negotiable and not specific to the UAE.”
According to a report published in the Wall Street Journal on 14 December, the US is insisting on conditions to ensure the F-35s will not be vulnerable to Chinese espionage.