The United Arab Emirates is reportedly pausing discussions on multibillion-dollar deal to buy 50 American-made F-35 aircraft, Reaper 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.
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. (AP Archive)

The United Arab Emirates is suspending talks on a $23 billion deal to purchase American-made F-35 planes, armed drones and other equipment.

The Emirati embassy in Washington said on Tuesday it would “suspend discussions" with the US, though meetings at the Pentagon this week between the two sides on other matters will move forward as planned. 

“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 embassy said in a statement.

Emirati officials blame an American insistence on restrictions on how and where the F-35s could be used and say they are a violation of the UAE's sovereignty.

"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 State Department said in a statement that the administration “remains committed to the proposed sales".

"Even as we continue consultations to ensure that we have a clear, mutual understanding of Emirati obligations and actions before, during, and after delivery," it said.

READ MORE: Post-Trump: Can the UAE maintain its cosy ties with the US?

Strategic partnership

The proposed sale of 50 F-35s to the UAE came at the end of former President Donald Trump's administration, emerging from a deal that saw the Emiratis formally recognise Israel. 

President Joe Biden's administration put the deal on hold after he took office, in part due to criticism of the UAE and Saudi Arabia over their years-long war in Yemen.

Also included in the deal are 18 advanced drone systems and a package of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions.

A person familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the US believes the Emiratis' move now is a negotiating tactic to try to move the process along. 

Pentagon spokesperson 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.

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.

READ MORE: Balancing act: Emirati foreign policy amid US-China rivalry

Source: TRTWorld and agencies