The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has frozen talks with the U.S. over its $23bn deal to buy 50 F-35 fighter jets besides General Atomics drones over American conditions that forced Abu Dhabi to ‘re-assess’ the planned acquisition.
An Emirati official said in a statement to select international media that Abu Dhabi had informed Washington that “technical requirements, sovereign operational restrictions and cost-benefit analysis led to the reassessment.”
Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said today, “We will always insist, as a matter of statutory requirements and policy, on a variety of end-user requirements. That's typical. And these end-user requirements and protection of U.S. defense equipment are universal, nonnegotiable and not specific to the UAE.”
UAE-US joint military dialogue
Kirby further said, “the joint military dialogue was set to start tomorrow between us and the Emiratis, and we're looking forward to that meeting. And the meeting wasn't designed to talk about a military sale; It was designed talk about the broad scope of our defense relationship with the UAE. But I would anticipate that this would be something that we would take advantage of the opportunity to talk with them about their concerns, as well as sharing our concerns about the sale.”
While details of the Biden administration’s conditions are not known, ‘sovereign operational restrictions,’ as stated by the Emirati official have been a bone of contention for many countries operating American weapons. They refer to end-user conditions that would limit the operational performance of the jets.
The sale of the F-35s was pushed through during the last days of the Trump administration after the UAE signed an accord to normalise relations with Israel. But the proposed sale was frozen by President Joe Biden who sought a review of the deal.
UAE’s Rafale purchase
Earlier this month, Abu Dhabi signed an estimated $20 billion agreement to buy 12 Airbus helicopters and 80 Rafale F-4 Standard jets which comes close to the F-35 in terms of combat performance. The deal was seen as an indication that all is not well with the F-35 procurement process. However, Abu Dhabi had stated that the Rafale purchase was independent of the intention to buy F-35 jets from the US
Besides stiff end-user conditions, Washington has been pressuring Abu Dhabi to give up on 5-G technology roll-out by Chinese company Huawei in the UAE. In addition, the US has been raising red flags over Chinese investments in UAE’s shipping sector which it suspects is a preclude to a military presence.