Biden Freezes F-35 Sale to UAE, Munitions Sales to Saudi Arabia

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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The U.S. Marine Corps version of Lockheed Martin's F35 Joint Strike Fighter,at Patuxent River Naval Air Systems Command in Maryland, February 22, 2012.
The U.S. Marine Corps version of Lockheed Martin's F35 Joint Strike Fighter,at Patuxent River Naval Air Systems Command in Maryland, February 22, 2012.Credit: Lockheed Martin / REUTERS
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration has reportedly temporarily frozen U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the sale of F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates as it reviews billions of dollars in weapons transactions approved by the Trump administration.

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According to the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, citing U.S. officials, the United States is specifically reviewing the sale of Lockheed Martin F-35 jets to the UAE and munitions to Saudi Arabia.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during his confirmation hearings last week that the Biden administration would "take a hard look" at the UAE sale.

On Wednesday, Blinken clarified that it was not uncommon "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."

Newly confirmed Secretary of State Antony Blinken removes his face mask to speak during a welcome ceremony at the State Department, Washington, January 27, 2021.Credit: Carlos Barria,AP

UAE Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef Al Otaiba also sought to reassure, saying in response that his country would work closely with the Biden administration on Middle East peace and stability, noting "the UAE anticipated a review of current policies." 

"The F-35 package is much more than selling military hardware to a partner," he added.

Blinken reiterated his praise of the Abraham Accords, noting that he hopes there is an opportunity to build on them in the months and years ahead, while also trying to ensure the U.S. has "a full understanding of any commitments that may have been made in securing those agreements."

The UAE has 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 normalize ties with Israel last August. The sale has also brought into question whether it would jeopardize Israel's military qualitative edge in the region.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in October said that there had been an ongoing discussion between Defense Ministry officials and the Pentagon and that Israel had received strong assurances about "the American commitment to preserve Israel’s military qualitative edge.”

Biden, harder on Saudi Arabia

During the presidential campaign, candidate Joe Biden called Saudi Arabia a “pariah,” broadly promising to confront the Kingdom on its human rights record and end U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. Blinken echoed that promise in his confirmation hearing, calling Yemen "the worst humanitarian situation in the world."  

Carnival float depicting Donald Trump as an angel and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman with a bloody chainsaw, Dusseldorf, western Germany, March 4, 2019.Credit: INA FASSBENDER / dpa / AFP

"We have real concerns [about] the policies that our Saudi partners have pursued and, accordingly, the president-elect has said we will review the entirety of the relationship to make sure that, as it stands, it is advancing the interests [and is] respectful of the values that we bring to that partnership," Blinken said.

In December, Haaretz revealed some of Joe Biden’s previously undisclosed criticisms of Saudi Arabia. In 1986, the Delaware Senator told the Israeli U.S. ambassador he thought the Kingdom was “no more than a collection of 500 princes and their families.” Biden also said that “the fatal mistake in U.S. policy occurred in 1982, when it decided to strive for strategic consensus in the Persian Gulf. The result was a shift of the center of gravity from America’s true friend, Israel, to others [referring to the sale of warplanes to Saudi Arabia].”

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