UAE Signs Deal With U.S. to Buy 50 F-35 Jets and Up to 18 Drones, Sources Say

The UAE and the Trump administration were working to ink a deal before Biden, who has said he will re-examine it, takes office

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F-35 fighter jet arrives at the Vermont Air National Guard base in South Burlington, Vt., United States, September 19, 2019.
F-35 fighter jet arrives at the Vermont Air National Guard base in South Burlington, Vt., United States, September 19, 2019.Credit: Wilson Ring / AP

The United Arab Emirates has signed an agreement with the United States to purchase 50 F-35 jets and up to 18 armed drones, people familiar with the situation told Reuters on Wednesday.

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Although the UAE and the United States were working to ink a deal before President Joseph Biden took office on Wednesday, the new president has said he will re-examine the agreements.

The UAE, one of Washington's closest Middle East allies, has long expressed interest in acquiring the stealthy F-35 jets made by Lockheed Martin and was promised a chance to buy them in a side deal when it agreed to normalize relations with Israel last August.

The U.S. State Department and the UAE Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment. One of the people said the agreement was signed about an hour before Biden was sworn into office. The document gave the United Arab Emirates the chance to accept the negotiated schedule and configuration of the jets while also making the purchase request official.

The UAE has had the paperwork for more than a week, the people said. The UAE and the United States had once hoped to have a deal in place in December, but the timing of jet deliveries, their cost, the technology packages and training associated with the deal extended negotiations, the people said.

The jets are a major component of a $23 billion sale of high-tech armaments from General Atomics, Lockheed Martin Corp and Raytheon Technologies Corp to the UAE announced this fall.

The UAE government also signed a separate agreement to buy up to 18 drones, the second-largest sale of U.S. drones to a single country, the people said.

The final in-country delivery date for the F-35 jets could not immediately be confirmed, but the initial proposal sent to UAE said 2027, the people said.

Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani, Netanyahu, Trump and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed sign the Abraham Accords at the White House, September 15, 2020.Credit: TOM BRENNER/ REUTERS

In December, an effort to stop the deals with the UAE fell short in the U.S. Senate as Trump’s fellow Republicans opposed resolutions of disapproval seeking to block the sale.

The Trump administration argued that the sales support U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives by “enabling the UAE to deter increasing Iranian aggressive behavior and threats” in the wake of its recent peace deal with Israel.

Backers of the sale also described the UAE as an important U.S. partner in the Middle East.

The two weapons packages are a major component of a planned $23 billion sale of high-tech armaments to the UAE. Opponents said the transactions were being rushed through, without sufficient assurances that the equipment would not fall into the wrong hands or fuel instability in the Middle East.

Some U.S. lawmakers also criticized the UAE for its involvement in the war in Yemen, a conflict considered one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.

The sale has also divided Israeli politicians over whether such a deal would jepoardize Israel's military qualitative edge in the region. 

In October last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 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.”

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