After Biden freezes F-35 sale to UAE, Otaiba: We expected a review under new US admin

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The UAE anticipated a review of policies by the new Joe Biden administration, the Emirati ambassador to Washington Yousef al-Otaiba said on Wednesday, after the US froze the sale of F-35 jets to the Gulf country pending review.

“As in previous transitions, the UAE anticipated a review of current policies by the new administration,” al-Otaiba said in a statement shared by the UAE embassy.


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Former President Donald Trump’s administration had agreed last year to the $23.37 billion package of advanced defense equipment to the UAE aimed at deterring potential threats from Iran.

The Gulf country said on January 21 it finalized letters of agreement with the US government for the F-35 purchase.

The package includes up to 50 F-35 Lighting II fighter jets, valued at $10.4 billion, up to 18 MQ-9B Unmanned Aerial Systems (advanced armed drone systems), valued at $2.97 billion and a package of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions, valued at $10 billion.

On Wednesday, State Department officials said the Biden administration had temporarily frozen for review the F-35 package to the UAE.

A State Department spokesperson said the administration is "temporarily pausing the implementation" of a number of defense sales "to allow incoming leadership an opportunity to review."

"This is a routine administrative action typical to most any transition, and demonstrates the administration's commitment to transparency and good governance," the spokesperson said.

The move is also aimed at "ensuring US arms sales meet our strategic objectives of building stronger, interoperable and more capable security partners."

The US also said it was freezing the sale of 3,000 precision guided munitions to Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom's officials have not yet commented on the news.

Al-Otaiba said: “The F-35 package is much more then selling military hardware to a partner. Like the US, it allows the UAE to maintain a strong deterrent to aggression. In parallel with new dialogue and security cooperation, it helps to reassure regional partners.”

“It also 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. The UAE has always fought alongside the US. And through hundreds of joint missions and participation in six US-led Coalition efforts, we have learned that the key to military coordination is interoperability,” he added.


Trump’s White House approval of the F-35 sale to the UAE, came after the Gulf country signed the Abraham Accord, agreeing to normalize relations with Israel in August.

Israeli officials have previously expressed some concern about an F-35 sale because it could affect the balance of military power in the region. But then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the sale was “fully consistent” with the longstanding policy of maintaining Israel’s qualitive military advantage.

“With Israel’s full acceptance of reassurances that the US ‘will maintain Israel’s security superiority in the Middle East for decades to come,’ the sale of the F-35 is also consistent with US policy and law to uphold Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge (QME),” the UAE embassy.

“With the same equipment and training, US and UAE forces are more effective together when and where it matters,” al-Otaiba said.


The UAE, a close US ally, has long cited the Iranian regime’s regional threat as a reason to ramp up its defenses.

“The most formidable threat is Iran’s proliferation of offensive ballistic missiles, precision-guided munitions and armed drones. The US intelligence community estimates that Tehran’s missiles are likely to keep growing in both power and technical sophistication, thus creating new strategic challenges for the UAE, the US, Israel and other partners,” the UAE said in a white paper last October.

“Like its partners, the UAE’s security interests are best served by doubling down on its qualitative edge over Iran’s increasing capabilities. This superiority resides in the UAE’s air force – now with the F-16 and in time with the F-35.”

- With Agencies

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