UAE suspends discussions on $23 billion weapons deal with US that includes F-35 aircrafts

The United Arab Emirates has informed the United States that it is suspending discussions on a $23 billion weapons deal that includes advanced F-35 aircraft, the Emirati embassy in Washington, DC said.

In a statement on Tuesday, the embassy said the UAE would “suspend discussions” on the sale, while meetings at the Pentagon scheduled for later this week between the two sides on other issues would proceed as planned.

“The U.S. remains the UAE’s preferred provider for advanced defense requirements and discussions for the F-35 may be re-opened in the future,” the embassy said.

A UAE official in a statement on Tuesday said “technical requirements, sovereign operational restrictions, and cost/benefit analysis led to the re-assessment” of the agreement.

Former US President Donald Trump’s administration first announced the $23 billion arms deal with the Emirati government last year. It is linked to the so-called “Abraham Accords“, which saw the UAE – as well as Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan – agree to normalise relations with Israel.

The $23.37 billion package contained products from General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Technologies, including 50 F-35 Lightning II aircraft, up to 18 MQ-9B Unmanned Aerial Systems and a package of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions.

The Emirati embassy’s statement comes days after the UAE agreed to buy a record 80 Rafale warplanes from France for $15.8 billion during a visit by President Emmanuel Macron, indicating the oil-rich Gulf state has alternatives.

The multi-billion-dollar deal between Washington and Abu Dhabi also has faced opposition in the US Congress.

An effort to block it failed in the Senate in December 2020, after some lawmakers raised concerns the weapons could worsen regional conflicts, notably in Yemen, where years of war have caused a humanitarian crisis.

Despite widespread criticism from rights groups and arms control advocates in the US, a US Department of State official said in April that the Biden administration would move forward with the proposed sales to the UAE, however.

The Department of State said in a statement that the Biden administration “remains committed to the proposed sales … even as we continue consultations to ensure that we have a clear, mutual understanding of Emirati obligations and actions before, during, and after delivery”.