US president sees ‘no problem’ with F-35 sale to UAE

Gargash says F-35 request part of UAE’s military modernisation programme and preceded peace deal.
Saturday 19/09/2020
A file picture shows an F-35 fighter plane overflying the White House on June 12, 2019. (AFP)
A file picture shows an F-35 fighter plane overflying the White House on June 12, 2019. (AFP)

DUBAI / WASHINGTON--A senior Emirati official insisted Tuesday that the UAE’s request for US F-35 warplanes is part of its military modernisation programme while the US president said he has “no problem” with the sale.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said the request has been on the table since before a normalisation deal with Israel.

But the agreement, known as the Abraham Accord, should dispel “any grain of doubt” on whether the Gulf state should get stealth F-35 fighter jets from the United States, Gargash told reporters.

“The UAE seeks like any country that takes its military seriously, to modernise its military, always, so our request for the F35 and other systems pre-dates this agreement,” he said.

The UAE’s existing F-16 jets are now almost two decades old and it is time to renew them, he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has pushed back against the sale of F-35 warplanes to the UAE, saying it endangers the Israeli military’s qualitative edge in the region.

But US President Donald Trump said Tuesday he would have “no problem” selling advanced F-35 warplanes to the United Arab Emirates, despite objections from close ally Israel.

“I personally would have no problem with it,” he said on Fox News. “I would have no problem in selling them the F-35.”

Trump defended the sale by saying it would mean “tremendous jobs at home.”

The president’s senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner said last week Trump “understands Israel’s security probably more than any American president in decades.”

“But the United Arab Emirates is a great military, you know, partner of America. We work together on a lot of things. They’re right on the border with Iran and have real threats. And I think that there’s a lot of opportunity to be gained by working on this,” he said.

Gargash said the country’s decision to normalise ties broke a “psychological barrier” and is the way forward for the region, giving it more leverage.

He said Israel suspending its planned annexation of Palestinian land would stop the two-state solution from being undermined and that the US’s mediation role was assurance that further annexation would be suspended.

The Emirati minister said it was not the time to revise the Arab Peace Initiative, and that it remains the cornerstone of the UAE’s commitment to the Palestinian cause.

A strategic breakthrough is needed, he said, but “it will not happen overnight.”