State Department clears UAE weapon sales worth $23B

By Justin Doubleday / November 10, 2020 at 2:52 PM

The State Department has approved $23 billion in potential foreign military sales to the United Arab Emirates, including a deal for F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, although Democrats have pushed back on the weapons transfer.

The State Department formally notified Congress today of its decision to approve a $10.4 billion sale of up to 50 F-35 aircraft, a $10 billion deal for air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions and a nearly $3 billion sale of 18 MQ-9B unmanned aerial systems, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

In a statement released with the DSCA announcement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the approvals are "in recognition of our deepening relationship and the UAE's need for advanced defense capabilities to deter and defend itself against heightened threats from Iran."

The potential deals come after the UAE officially said it would normalize relations with Israel under the Abraham Accords, which Pompeo called a "once-in-a-generation opportunity to positively transform the region's strategic landscape."

However, Democrats have pushed back on reports about the proposed F-35 sale. In an Oct. 9 letter to Pompeo and then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI) argued the Trump administration "is trying to rush through a precedent-setting sale of the United States' most advanced fighter aircraft to a country in a volatile region with multiple ongoing conflicts."

The pair asked Pompeo and Esper to answer a variety of questions before the sale was sent to Congress for review, including details about the terms of the F-35 sale and whether UAE would have signed the Abraham Accords without the promise of the aircraft deal.