US-UAE arms deal approved in last hours of Trump's presidency
A US arms sale to the United Arab Emirates was hastily approved on Wednesday by the Trump administration, shortly before the inauguration of President Joe Biden.
Biden, who had been openly critical of the multi-billion-dollar sale, has said the deal will be re-examined.
The agreement to purchase 50 F-35 jets and up to 18 armed drones is part of a $23 billion sale of high-tech armaments from General Atomics, Lockheed Martin Corp and Raytheon Technologies Corp to the UAE announced last year.
The UAE, one of Washington's long-time allies in the Middle East, was promised the purchase in a side deal when it agreed to normalise relations with Israel last August.
As part of the 'Abraham Accords' finalised on September 15, the UAE and Bahrain formally and publicly established diplomatic relations with Israel. The agreement was hailed as a breakthrough by former President Donald Trump, who claimed that “there’s going to be peace in the Middle East.” The two Gulf states were the third and fourth Arab countries to formalise diplomatic relations with Israel, with Egypt and Jordan being the first two.
The UAE arms deal was reportedly signed an hour before Biden was sworn into office. The new president said he would re-examine the agreement, which has been a cause of contention.
Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was sued last month by an independent New York policy research group seeking to block the $23 billion arms sale.
In a complaint in a federal court in Washington, the New York Center For Foreign Policy Affairs said Pompeo, who oversaw the State Department’s authorisation of government-to-government arms sales, had “rushed” the deal without proper oversight or justification, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. In approving the deal, Pompeo said the weapons would address “UAE’s need for advanced defence capabilities to deter and defend itself against heightened threats from Iran.”
The Senate narrowly stuck down legislation blocking the sale of the F-35 fighter jets and drones as part of the broader Middle East peace deal. The two parties had hoped to have a deal in place in December, but the timing of jet deliveries and associated training delayed the negotiations.
Biden’s presidency is likely to test the relationship between the US and the UAE. Emirati officials, like their counterparts in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Israel, had been supportive of Trump’s foreign policy agenda in the Middle East and its focus on weakening Iran.
Biden’s foreign policy is likely to impact American arms sales to regional actors, including the UAE, which had allowed the previous administration to strengthen its ties with Abu Dhabi.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday urged Biden to "strengthen" a long-standing alliance between the two countries, partly to confront the "threat" posed by Iran.
Biden is set to begin his presidency with a strategy broadly based on reasserting America's global leadership.