Abu Dhabi halts $23bn deal after concerns about restrictions from Washington on use of Chinese telecommunication equipment which the U.S. suspect spywares are embedded into the Huawei 5G devices.
The United Arab Emirates has informed the United States that it will suspend discussions to acquire F-35 fighter jets, a UAE official said on Tuesday, part of a $23 billion deal 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 re-assessment,” the UAE official said in a statement to Reuters that confirmed a report in the Wall Street Journal.
“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 official said, adding there were discussions to “address mutual defense security conditions for the acquisition”.
A person briefed on the negotiations said for several months sticking points between the United States and the UAE revolved around how the stealthy jets can be deployed and how much of the sophisticated F-35 technology the Emiratis will be allowed to take advantage of. The person asked not to be identified by name or by association with either country.
The UAE had signed an agreement to purchase 50 F-35 jets and up to 18 armed drones, people familiar with the situation told Reuters in January.
The Wall Street Journal first disclosed the suspension of negotiations.
The UAE has long worked with the US on counterterrorism and allowed the entry of people fleeing Afghanistan during the chaotic US withdrawal earlier this year. But tensions between Washington and Abu Dhabi have risen over the UAE’s growing cooperation with China.
Last week, a top Emirati diplomat acknowledged the UAE stopped construction on a Chinese facility at an Abu Dhabi port that America considered a military base. The Journal first revealed the presence of the alleged facility.
“We took these American concerns into consideration and we stopped the work on the facilities,” the diplomat, Anwar Gargash, told a meeting of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “But our position remains the same, that these facilities were not really military facilities.”
He described the discussions between the UAE and the US “as quite frank.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters that US requirements on the use of American-made military equipment “are universal, non-negotiable, and not specific to the UAE.”
“The US partnership with the UAE is more strategic and more complex than any one weapon sale,” Kirby said.
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