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US set to approve some arms sales to UAE, Saudis

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration plans to suspend the sale of many offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia approved under the Trump administration, but this will allow the sale of other materials that can be interpreted as having a defensive purpose, officials said on Wednesday. American officials.

The plan, which was presented to Congress last week, is part of an administrative review of billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that the White House announced shortly after the inauguration from President Biden.

The initial sales met with strong opposition last year from Democrats in Congress, who are angry at countries’ involvement in the Yemen war and wary of the transfer of advanced military technology to authoritarian states in the United States. Middle East related to China.

The Biden administration will approve $ 23 billion in arms sales to the United Arab Emirates, according to a State Department spokesperson, including F-35 fighter jets and armed Reaper drones. Biden administration officials signaled at the time of the review that these weapons, sold to the Emirates shortly after the signing of a diplomatic deal with Israel brokered by the Trump administration, were likely to be approved.

The fate of President Donald J. Trump’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia was less clear. Biden, who has said he wants to reset Washington’s relations with Riyadh, announced in February that he would end “all US support for offensive operations in the Yemen war, including relevant arms sales,” but the White House did not provide further details.

Since then, US officials have debated weapons sold under the Trump administration that could presumably be used in Saudi Arabia’s self-defense, including those from missile and drone attacks by Iran-backed Houthi rebels. , that the Saudis are fighting in Yemen. Even as officials in the Biden administration have criticized Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, they have repeatedly pledged to help the Saudis defend themselves.

After the review, the Biden administration plans to halt the sale of offensive air-to-ground weapons used by fixed-wing aircraft – primarily fighter jets and drones – to Saudi Arabia, U.S. officials said. This includes systems capable of transforming ordinary bombs into precision guided munitions. The suspension aims to address one of the main concerns of the war in Yemen: the killings of civilians, including many children, as a result of the use of these bombs by the Saudi-led coalition.

The Raytheon Company, the largest bomb supplier, has pressured the Trump administration to continue sales, despite growing outcry from aid groups, members of Congress and some members of the State Department.

The suspension does not cover sales of other types of weapons to Saudi Arabia, US officials said. Weapons used by helicopters would still be permitted, as would ground-to-ground ammunition and small arms. Electronic equipment, including jamming technology, would also be permitted. The Saudi Army receives almost all of its weapons from the United States.

“You can’t just cut it off while your partner suffers the daily attacks from an opponent when you’ve made public statements about your commitment to their security,” said Kirsten Fontenrose, director of the Atlantic Council who has was the National Security Council. director of the Persian Gulf region at Trump’s White House.

The review does not recommend suspending arms sales to the UAE. This fact came to light on Monday, after the Justice Ministry officially notified lawyers about the decision, which officials say was made this year in a lawsuit against the deal brought by the nonprofit New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs.

The Emirates played an important role in the war in Yemen, but have retreated recently. As part of last year’s negotiations to try to persuade the UAE to normalize relations with Israel, the Trump administration has told Emirati officials it will speed up approval of sales of F fighter jets and drones. -35.

U.S. officials said Wednesday that Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken received the report this week from other State Department offices and must approve it. The report would then be submitted to the National Security Council for final approval.

“I and many other members of the House remain concerned about the proposed sale of $ 23 billion in arms to the United Arab Emirates,” said Representative Gregory W. Meeks, Democrat of New York and chairman of the United Arab Emirates Committee. Foreign Affairs of the House. He said he had “a lot of questions about any decision by the Biden administration to go ahead with the Trump administration’s proposed transfers” of fighter jets, drones and ammunition to the Emirates.

Israeli officials and some members of Congress expressed concern that sales of F-35s would weaken what they called Israel’s “qualitative military advantage” over other countries in the region, and that the Congress demands that presidential administrations maintain it as a matter of law. Israel is currently the only country in the region to have F-35s.

Other U.S. officials have expressed concern over the sale of the F-35, one of the military’s most advanced equipment, to the United Arab Emirates as they develop a closer relationship with China, notorious for its espionage technological. U.S. officials are concerned, among other things, about the radar and stealth capabilities of the F-35s and some drone technologies.

Ms Fontenrose added that some officials were also concerned that the Emirates would use US-made weapons, including Reaper drones, in the Libyan Civil War, where they intervened. She said the Emirates had provided the Trump administration with “assurances” on this front.

The State Department official, who requested anonymity to discuss policies that had not been officially announced, noted that it would take years to complete the Emirati arms deal, and during that time, the administration would ensure that the country meets its obligations, such as protecting American technology and ensuring that American weapons are not used in contexts that violate human rights and the laws of conflict.

Mr. Meeks echoed this point. “Fortunately, none of these transfers will take place any time soon,” he said, “so Congress will have ample time to consider whether these transfers should take place and what restrictions and conditions would be imposed.”

Mr. Trump’s deal with the Emirates was approved shortly after he agreed to join the Abrahamic Accords, which for the first time normalized diplomatic relations with Israel.

Some Democrats complained that arms sales appeared to have been an inappropriate incentive for the Emirates to agree to the deals, which largely formalized a relationship that had grown increasingly friendly over many years.

“I still don’t believe it’s in our best interests to fuel a spiraling arms race in the Middle East,” said Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut and congressional arms sales critic and ties between the United States and the Arab Gulf. States. “I have requested a briefing from the administration regarding the status of the sales review in the UAE and Arabia.”

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