Biden suspends sale of advanced F-35 fighter jets to UAE

Biden administration reviewing Trump-era arms deals, may still approve them, official says.

ISRAELI F-35 takes off from an airbase in southern Israel (photo credit: AMIT AGRONOV/ISRAEL AIR FORCE)
ISRAELI F-35 takes off from an airbase in southern Israel
(photo credit: AMIT AGRONOV/ISRAEL AIR FORCE)
The US plans to reevaluate the Trump administration’s decision to sell F-35 jets to the United Arab Emirates.
A US State Department official said on Wednesday that the Biden administration “temporarily paused” for review several pending arms sales to US allies, amounting to billions of dollars.
Among them are sales of F-35 fighter jets to the UAE and precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia.
US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, addressed the decision to review the F-35 sale to the UAE. Speaking at a press conference at the State Department, Blinken said that when it comes to arms sales, "it is typical at the start of an administration to review any pending sales, to make sure that what is being considered is something that advances our strategic objectives and advances our foreign policy, so that's what we're doing at this moment."    
"We very much support the Abraham Accords, we think that Israel normalizing relations with its neighbors and other countries in the region is a very positive development and so, we applaud them, and we hope that there may be an opportunity to build on it in the months and years ahead," Blinken added. "We're also trying to make sure that we have a full understanding of any commitments that may have been made in securing those agreements, and that's something we're looking at right now," he said. 

Blinken also addressed the prospects of rejoining the nuclear agreement with Iran. "President Biden has been very clear in saying that if Iran comes back into full compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA, the United States would do the same thing, and then we would use that as a platform, to build with our allies and partners, what we call the longer and stronger agreement and to deal with a number of other issues that are deeply problematic in the relationship with Iran," he said. 
"But we are a long ways from that point," Blinken continued. "Iran is out of compliance on a number of fronts. It would take some time, should it make the decision to do so for it to come back into compliance and time for us then to assess whether it was meeting its obligations. So we're not there yet, to say the least." 
The F-35 sale came soon after the UAE and Israel signed a peace and normalization agreement mediated by the Trump administration, known as the Abraham Accords.
Though the warplanes were not officially part of the Abraham Accords, UAE officials said soon after the agreement was announced that they hoped it would help the US approve their longstanding request to purchase F-35s.
Israel is currently the only country in the Middle East in the F-35 program. Defense Minister Benny Gantz flew to Washington in October to discuss the matter with his American counterpart at the time, Mark Esper, and they reached understandings that would maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge, as required by US law.
UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef al-Otaiba responded: "Welcoming joint efforts to de-escalate tensions and for renewed regional dialogue, the UAE will work closely with the Biden administration on a comprehensive approach to peace and stability."
Otaiba added that the UAE anticipated this review, and pointed out that joining the F-35 project is "much more than selling military hardware to a partner."
"Like the US, it allows the UAE to maintain a strong deterrent to aggression," the ambassador tweeted. "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."
A former Trump administration official involved in the agreements said on Wednesday that “there was no trade that ‘you get this if you get that’” when it came to the Abraham Accords and the warplanes.
“When the UAE leveled up into the Abraham Accords then they’re entitled to be reevaluated in our relationships in the Middle East,” the ex-official said, adding that selling the planes was “good for the US economy and good for our strength in the region.”
The Biden administration’s decision is “killing more American jobs...and it’s a vote of confidence in Iran and a vote of dismay to our allies who proactively made peace. It’s a slap in the face. Every bad message you could possibly send - this is it,” the former official said.
US President Joe Biden promised during his election campaign that he would ensure that Saudi Arabia does not use American weapons in Yemen, where a proxy war with Iran has led to widespread hunger and many civilian deaths.