Exclusive: As Biden advances UAE F-35 sale, senators seek more control of arms deals

Exclusive: As Biden advances UAE F-35 sale, senators seek more control of arms deals

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two senior Democratic senators will introduce legislation on Friday that would reassert Congress’ oversight of international weapons deals, after President Joe Biden’s administration decided to go ahead with a $23 billion sale to the United Arab Emirates that had worried lawmakers, congressional aides said.

The bill, seen by Reuters, will be introduced by Senators Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Dianne Feinstein, a senior member of the intelligence committee.

The “Secure F-35 Exports Act of 2020” would apply to the sale of the sophisticated U.S. military technology to countries that are not NATO members or Israel, Australia, Japan, South Korea or New Zealand.

Among other things, it would bar the sale of the F-35s – which can take years after a deal is agreed – unless any president makes detailed certifications to Congress that the critical technology would not fall into the wrong hands, or otherwise compromise advanced technology.

It also would require that any sale to a Middle Eastern country other than Israel not compromise Israel’s military advantage over such countries, and come with assurances that the aircraft would not be used in operations harmful to Israel’s security.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that the Biden administration had told lawmakers it was proceeding with more than $23 billion in weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates, including advanced F-35 aircraft, armed drones and other equipment.

The Democrat’s administration had paused the deals agreed to by former Republican President Donald Trump to allow a review.

The sales to the Gulf nation were signed right before Trump left office on Jan. 20, and many members of Congress – especially Biden’s fellow Democrats – felt they had been rushed through without proper review.

“We must enact protections to ensure the incredibly sensitive technology of these aircraft is not compromised by powers hostile to the United States, including making sure the UAE pulls back from its burgeoning relationship with China and other U.S. competitors,” Menendez said in a statement provided to Reuters.

The Trump administration told Congress in November it had approved the U.S. sale to the UAE as a side deal to the Abraham Accords, a U.S.-brokered agreement in September in which the UAE agreed to normalize relations with Israel.

In the last months of the Trump administration, Israel reached deals with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco as part of the accords.

The $23.37 billion package contained products from General Atomics, Lockheed Martin Corp (NYSE:LMT) and Raytheon Technologies (NYSE:RTX) Corp, including 50 F-35 Lighting II aircraft, up to 18 MQ-9B Unmanned Aerial Systems and a package of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions.

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives have also said they are worried by Biden’s decision. Representative Gregory Meeks, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Wednesday he and other lawmakers were concerned about the decision and would review the transactions. [L1N2M735P]

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