The White House has suspended arms sales agreed by Donald Trump to two Gulf allies, President Joe Biden’s first major move to reset US relations with Sunni Arab regimes heavily courted by his predecessor.
Temporary freeze puts historic transaction for sale on hold 50 F-35 fighter jets in the United Arab Emirates, as well as other weapons destined for Saudi Arabia.
Antony Blinken, the new secretary of state, has approved a series of deals negotiated by Trump for normalize links between Arab allies and Israel, which began with a deal with the United Arab Emirates in August. But he told reporters he was reviewing the commitments made to secure those pacts.
The Trump administration agreed to the sale of the F-35 after the UAE agreed to formalize diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. Mr. Trump too recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara, in violation of diplomatic standards, after Rabat agreed to normalize its relations with Israel.
Saudi Arabia expected the new US administration to take a stronger stance after Mr Biden criticized human rights abuses under the watchful eye of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and pledged to ” review ”relations with the kingdom.
Mr. Trump had put arms sales in Saudi Arabia – one of the world’s biggest arms buyers – at the heart of his relationship with Prince Mohammed, alongside the kingdom’s daily ruler despite the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 by Saudi agents. He also vetoed a bipartisan bill aimed at ending US support for the Saudi-led coalition in the civil war in Yemen.
In another blow to Riyadh, Mr Blinken said he would review the sanctions imposed on Yemeni rebels aligned with Iran after warning that the measures risked triggering the world’s worst famine in decades.
While Mr. Blinken accused the group of committing atrocities, he said the United States should focus on mitigating a humanitarian disaster.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates intervened in the Yemen war to fight the Iranian-backed Houthis after rebels seized the capital Sana’a in 2015 and forced the Yemeni government into exile .
“We saw a campaign [in Yemen], led by Saudi Arabia, which has also contributed to what by many estimates is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today, and that says a lot, ”Blinken said. It is “of vital importance” to bring humanitarian aid to those in desperate need, he added.
While Mr Blinken said he had “real concerns” about certain policies being pursued by Riyadh, he also said that the United States “should do what we need to do to help defend Saudi Arabia. against aggression directed against Saudi Arabia, including Yemen and the Houthis ”. .
The Houthis have fired dozens of missiles and drones at Saudi Arabia, targeting airports and oil infrastructure.
The UAE, which had also drawn criticism in the United States for its role in the war in Yemen, hoped their decision to normalize relations with Israel last year would win the goodwill of Mr Biden’s team.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia are both key US allies in the Middle East and have supported Mr Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and impose heavy sanctions. in Tehran.
Besides American criticism for its role in igniting the war in Yemen, the United Arab Emirates has faced stigma for its support for Khalifa Haftar, a renegade Libyan general who challenged the internationally recognized regime in Tripoli.