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Overnight Defense: Biden administration pausing UAE, Saudi arms sales | Pentagon


Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Rebecca Kheel, and here’s your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: Former President TrumpDonald TrumpFBI says California extremist may have targeted Newsom House Democrat touts resolution to expel Marjorie Taylor Greene from Congress Facebook to dial back political content on platform MORE’s last-minute arms sales to the Saudis and Emirates are getting put on ice while the Biden administration reviews those and other pending sales.

The State Department confirmed a pause in “some” pending arms transfers Wednesday, a day after Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenOvernight Defense: Biden administration pausing UAE, Saudi arms sales | Pentagon making climate change national security priority | VA secretary nominee sails through hearing Blinken vows to confront, cooperate with China in first remarks at the State Department Blinken says US has ‘deep concern’ about Navalny safety MORE’s confirmation, framing the move as a routine practice for a new administration.

“The department is temporarily pausing the implementation of some pending U.S. defense transfers and sales under Foreign Military Sales and Direct Commercial Sales to allow incoming leadership an opportunity to review,” a State Department spokesperson said.

“This is a routine administrative action typical to most any transition, and demonstrates the administration’s commitment to transparency and good governance, as well as ensuring U.S. arms sales meet our strategic objectives of building stronger, interoperable, and more capable security partners,” the spokesperson added. 

The spokesperson did not specify which sales are being paused, but The Wall Street Journal reported the UAE and Saudi sales were among those under review.

Asked at a briefing later Wednesday about reviewing sales to the Saudis and UAE, Blinken similarly framed the move as routine.

“Generally speaking, when it comes to arms sales, it is typical at the start of an administration to review any pending sales to make sure that what is being considered is something that advances our strategic objectives and advances our foreign policy, so that’s what we’re doing at this moment,” he said.

Background: Recall that the Trump administration approved Abu Dhabi’s longstanding request to buy 50 F-35 fighter jets worth $10.4 billion as part of a side deal to the UAE’s agreement to normalize relations with Israel. In addition to the jets, the arms package included 18 MQ-9B drones worth $2.97 billion and a package of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions worth $10 billion.

Democrats tried to block the sale, citing concerns about the UAE’s conduct in Yemen and Libya and relations with China and Russia, as well as concerns about maintaining Israel’s military superiority in the region. But a Senate resolution to block the sale ultimately fell short.

Meanwhile, last month, the Trump administration approved selling the kingdom 3,000 Boeing-made GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb I (SDB I) munitions and related equipment worth $290 million and 7,500 Raytheon-made Paveway air-to-ground “smart” bombs at an estimated value of $478 million.

Those deals were approved even as lawmakers in both parties have been increasingly opposed to selling the Saudis weapons after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and thousands of civilian deaths in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

UAE reaction: In a series of tweets, UAE ambassador to the U.S. Yousef Al Otaiba said his country anticipated a review as a normal part of a change in administration.

“Specifically, the F-35 package is much more [than] selling military hardware to a partner,” he tweeted. “Like the US, it allows the UAE to maintain a strong deterrent to aggression. In parallel with new dialogue and security cooperation, it helps to reassure regional partners.”

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