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UAE ambassador confident US F-35 deal will be fulfilled

"You can't … take tools away from your partners who are expected to do more," Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba said Monday.

The United Arab Emirates’ ambassador in Washington is expressing confidence that a proposed sale by the United States of 50 F-35 jets fighter jets to his country will be fulfilled by the administration of President Joe Biden.

“Everything is still proceeding while undergoing a review at the same time,” UAE Ambassador to the United States Yousef al-Otaiba said during an online event hosted by the Washington Institute on Monday, adding, “I am confident it will end up in the right place.”

The administration of former President Donald Trump offered a $23 billion sale of 50 F-35s, 18 MQ-9B drones and precision-guided munitions to the UAE after its leaders signed an agreement normalizing ties with Israel last year.

But Biden has vowed to stop US support to the Saudi-led military coalition, which includes the UAE, due to its role in the devastating civil war in Yemen. The State Department initiated a review of the F-35 sale to Abu Dhabi and a proposed guided munitions sale to Riyadh last week.

Since the freeze, Otaiba has publicly highlighted the benefits the deal could offer the United States amid Washington’s strategic shift, which includes reducing focus in the Middle East.

The sale, he said last week, “allows the UAE to maintain a strong deterrent to aggression” and “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.”

Biden administration officials say they are looking to build on the Trump administration’s so-called Abraham Accords, an initiative to convince Arab leaders to recognize Israel as a step toward building regional defense cooperation to shore up regional deterrence to Iran’s influence and ambitions.

The United States is meanwhile looking to increase its focus on countering China by concentrating its resources on East Asia.

“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,” Otaiba said Monday.

If the deal is completed, the UAE would become the first Arab country to join the exclusive F-35 club and the second in the region after Israel.

Despite objection to the sale from rights groups over the UAE’s involvement in conflicts in Libya and Yemen and concern among congressional Democrats about whether the UAE could protect the F-35’s highly sensitive technology from US adversaries Russia and China, lawmakers failed to block the deal late last year.

In 2019, the State Department and Pentagon sent investigators to the UAE and Saudi Arabia to investigate how American-made, mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles ended up in the hands of separatists and al-Qaeda-linked groups in Yemen.

The UAE also lost a Russian-made Pantsir mobile air defense battery in Libya when forces aligned with the United Nations-backed Tripoli government captured al-Watiya air base last May. The US military then quietly took possession of the Russian system and flew it to Germany.

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