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A Lockheed Martin F-35 aircraft is seen at the ILA Air Show in Berlin, Germany, April 25 2018. Picture: AXEL SCHMIDT/REUTERS
A Lockheed Martin F-35 aircraft is seen at the ILA Air Show in Berlin, Germany, April 25 2018. Picture: AXEL SCHMIDT/REUTERS

Dubai/Washington  — The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has informed the US that it will suspend discussions to acquire F-35 fighter jets, a UAE official said on Tuesday, part of a $23bn deal with the ally that also includes drones and other advanced munitions.

The sale of 50 F-35 warplanes made by Lockheed Martin to the UAE had slowed  amid concerns in Washington over Abu Dhabi's relationship with China, including use of Huawei 5G technology in the country.

“Technical requirements, sovereign operational restrictions, and cost/benefit analysis led to the reassessment,” the UAE official said in a statement  that confirmed a report in the Wall Street Journal.

“The US remains the UAE’s preferred provider for advanced defence requirements and discussions for the F-35 may be reopened in the future,” the official said, adding there were discussions to “address mutual defence security conditions for the acquisition”.

The UAE had signed an agreement to purchase 50 F-35 jets and up to 18 armed drones, people familiar with the situation said in January.

Earlier, at the Pentagon, spokesperson John Kirby had said the US partnership with the UAE was more strategic and complex than a weapons sale and Washington was committed to working with Abu Dhabi to address their questions.

“We will always insist, as a matter of statutory requirements and policy, on a variety of end use requirements,” Kirby said.

He added that a meeting between US and UAE officials at the Pentagon later this week was set to be about broad topics but anticipated that the weapons sale would come up.

Kirby referred questions about details of specific arms sales to the state department.

A department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the Biden administration was committed to the proposed sales of the F-35 aircraft along with the MQ-9B and munitions.

“We are hopeful that we can work through any outstanding issues,” the official said.

Lockheed Martin referred requests for comment to the US and UAE governments.

The UAE, one of Washington’s closest Middle East allies, had long expressed interest in acquiring the F-35 jets, and was promised a chance to buy them in a side deal when it agreed to normalise relations with Israel in August 2020.

Reuters 

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