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UAE told the US it will suspend talks on F-35 jets, says Emirati official

A US-made F-35 Lightning fighter jet, built for the Australian Air Force, seen on 3 March 2019 [Recep Şakar/Anadolu Agency]
A US-made F-35 Lightning fighter jet, built for the Australian Air Force, seen on 3 March 2019 [Recep Şakar/Anadolu Agency]

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 with the ally that also includes drones and other advanced munitions, Reuters reports.

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 the 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 US remains the UAE's preferred provider for advanced defence requirements and discussions for the F-35 may be re-opened 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 told Reuters in January.

READ: UAE official says French Rafale planes no substitute for US fighters

Earlier, at the Pentagon, spokesman, 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-user 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 State 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 Corp 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 stealth  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.

READ: Turkey's defence minister warns against alliances that harm NATO

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