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Sale emerged from Trump-brokered Israel-UAE peace deal

Blinken: F-35 deal with UAE still on table but Israel must retain ‘military edge’

After Emiratis reject administration’s conditions on how and where aircraft can be used, secretary of state says US still prepared to go ahead with $23 billion arms package

Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives at Subang Airport, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on December 14, 2021. (Olivier Douliery/Pool via AP)
Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives at Subang Airport, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on December 14, 2021. (Olivier Douliery/Pool via AP)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted Wednesday the US was still prepared to sell F-35 fighter jets to the UAE, which has threatened to scrap the deal over stringent conditions.

The $23 billion arms package was pushed through by former president Donald Trump in what was seen as a reward for the United Arab Emirates’ recognition of Israel, but his successor Joe Biden has pledged greater oversight over the planes.

The Gulf state threatened to dump the agreement Tuesday over the strict conditions, and it comes as Washington grows concerned about China’s involvement with the US ally.

But Blinken said “we remain prepared to move forward… if that is what the Emiratis are interested in doing,” speaking during a visit to Malaysia.

Asked about the conditions the US has set, he did not give precise details, but said Washington wanted to ensure that Israel maintains its “military edge.”

“We wanted to make sure that we could do a thorough review of any technologies that are sold or transferred to other partners in the region,” he said.

Illustrative: A F-35 fighter jet arrives at the Vermont Air National Guard base in South Burlington, Vermont, on September 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Wilson Ring, File)

US ally Israel historically objected to Arab states obtaining the F-35s, seeking to maintain its regional advantage, but gave its blessing after the UAE last year became the first new Arab country in decades to recognize the Jewish state.

The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the impasse, said that the United States was insisting on conditions to make sure the F-35s would not be vulnerable to Chinese espionage.

Lawmakers from Biden’s Democratic Party unsuccessfully sought to stop the sale, pointing in part to the Gulf state’s participation in the bloody Saudi-led offensive in Yemen and its support for Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar.

The F-35s are prized for stealth capabilities and versatility with the capacity to gather intelligence, strike deep into enemy territory and engage in air duels.

Israel and the UAE have found common cause on concerns about Iran, although a top Emirati official this month visited Iran, where officials voiced hope for smoother ties.

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