U.S. Seeks Clarifications From UAE Before Following Through With $23B Arms Sale

The United States is remaining "fully committed" to a proposed sale of stealth fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates, but the Biden administration is slowing the deal and seeking clarification before following through, the Associated Press reported.

According to a senior U.S. official overseeing arms exports, the proposed sale included 50 F-35 stealth fighter jets along with armed drones and other defense equipment. The $23 billion sale proposal came at the end of President Donald Trump's administration, rising from a deal in which the UAE recognized Israel.

Once President Joe Biden took office, his administration put the arms sale and others on hold, raising criticism of the UAE and Saudi Arabia over their long war in Yemen.

Mira Resnick, a deputy U.S. assistant secretary of state in the Biden administration, told AP at the Dubai Air Show that they are working with the UAE to clarify the deal.

"We are fully committed to the F-35 and transferring the F-35, which is a game-changer for the Emiratis. We are working with them as we speak to make sure that there are clarifications to the various assurances that were made to the previous administration," she said.

Resnick declined to describe what clarifications America sought, nor what assurances the Emiratis had offered. The UAE similarly has not discussed sale terms.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Mira Resnick, a U.S. deputy assistant secretary
The United States is remaining “fully committed” to a proposed sale of stealth fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates, but the Biden administration is slowing the deal and seeking clarification before following through. Above, Mira Resnick, a U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for regional security in the bureau of political-military affairs, looks at night-vision goggles on display in the American section of the Dubai Air Show in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on November 16, 2021. Jon Gambrell/Associated Press

A high-level Russian delegation met Tuesday with Abu Dhabi's powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, at the air show, which prominently featured Moscow's competitor to the F-35, the Sukhoi Su-75 Checkmate.

"The F-35 is already in this region, whether it's Israelis flying the F-35, whether it's American F-35," Resnick said. "We would like the UAE to be able to operate the F-35 in a way that [they] can be our security partners and to deter threats, including from Iran."

Only Israel flies the F-35 in the region, part of its so-called "qualitative edge" granted by America after Israel fought several wars against its Arab neighbors since its founding.

Resnick said she'd heard no concerns from Israel or other allies over the F-35 sale to the Emirates.

Human rights concerns also have affected weapons sales to neighboring Saudi Arabia under the Biden administration. Biden pledged during his campaign to make Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a "pariah" after U.S. intelligence agencies said they believe he ordered the 2018 killing and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

"We have worked with Saudi Arabia to make sure that they are able to defend themselves. We know that there are complications in...this relationship and in relationships around the globe," Resnick said. "But we continue to reinvest and make sure that they can invest in their own defense."

Fragments of American munitions dropped by Saudi fighter jets also have been found at sites in Yemen where civilians died in the kingdom's bombing raids. Asked about those attacks, Resnick said that the U.S. wants to make sure American arms are "used in ways that advance U.S. national security." She said the U.S. continued to work with partners on trying to prevent civilian killings.

As visitors enter the Dubai Air Show, they first see local Emirati defense firm EDGE showing off a wide variety of its own munitions. Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia in recent years have sought to improve their own arms industries in part to avoid seeing their armament supplies cut off over Western concerns.

Russia similarly has sought to make an impression at the show, flying a new attack helicopter and showing off the Checkmate fighter jet in a music-video-style presentation to journalists on the tarmac. But Resnick dismissed that effort, saying flatly that the Checkmate had "not in the least" ever come up in discussions with the Emiratis.

"We have not seen any strategic competitor be able to fill the kind of role that we play here in the region," Resnick said.