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Despite Biden OK, ‘concerned’ Democrat says US Congress to review UAE arms deal

Chairman of House Foreign Affairs Committee says he still has questions over $23 billion sale, which White House is now advancing after initial suspension

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

US Rep. Gregory Meeks speaks during a news conference outside the USPS Jamaica station, August 18, 2020, in the Queens borough of New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
US Rep. Gregory Meeks speaks during a news conference outside the USPS Jamaica station, August 18, 2020, in the Queens borough of New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

A senior Democratic US lawmaker expressed concern Wednesday over the Biden administration’s decision to move forward with a $23 billion arms deal to the United Arab Emirates after initial hesitation, and asserted that Congress will still review the massive purchase that was inked by former president Donald Trump against the backdrop of Abu Dhabi’s decision to normalize relations with Israel.

“I and many other House Members remain concerned about the proposed sale of $23 billion in arms to the UAE,” House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Gregory Meeks said in a statement. “I still have many questions about any decision by the Biden Administration to go forward with the Trump Administration’s proposed transfers of F-35s, armed UAVs, munitions and other weapons.”

“Fortunately, none of these transfers would occur any time soon, so there will be ample time for Congress to review whether these transfers should go forward and what restrictions and conditions would be imposed,’” Meeks added.

The delivery of the weapons to the UAE is not expected to take place until after 2025, a State Department spokesperson said earlier this week.

Then-Vice President Joe Biden (left) and then-Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, June 30, 2015, at the State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Democrats have also grown uncomfortable with the idea of selling such advanced weaponry to the UAE, which has been heavily criticized for its role in the Saudi Arabia-led offensive in Yemen. The narrow vote to approve the deal in Congress late last year fell almost completely down party lines.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed his apprehension over the sale during the presidential campaign when he was serving as Joe Biden’s foreign policy adviser, telling The Times of Israel that Israel was the only country in the region meant to have F-35s.

Therefore, the decision to place a hold on the sale earlier this year did not come as a major surprise as the new administration vowed to review both that purchase along with another major weapons sale to Saudi Arabia, which has come under scrutiny by Democrats for its own human rights record.

But on Tuesday, the Reuters news agency reported that the White House has told Congress it will move ahead with the UAE arms deal, which had been fast-tracked by Trump after Abu Dhabi’s August decision to normalize ties with Israel.

Less than a month after the UAE sale was announced, an effort to block the deal fell short in the Senate.

Senators argued the sale of the defense equipment had unfolded too quickly and raised too many questions. The Trump administration billed it as a way to deter Iran, but the UAE would have become the first Arab nation — and only the second country in the Middle East, after Israel — to possess the stealth warplanes.

The deal was approved by the UAE during Trump’s final hour in the White House, a US official said.

A State Department spokesperson said Tuesday that the Biden administration would move forward with the proposed sale “even as we continue reviewing details and consulting with Emirati officials” related to the use of the weapons.

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