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Biden suspends arms exports to Saudi Arabia and UAE

Posted January. 29, 2021 07:31,   

Updated January. 29, 2021 07:31


The United States has suspended weapons exports to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and has begun to reexamine the existing exports plan. Experts say that Washington is reversing its previous diplomatic tack of siding with Saudi Arabia and trying to strike a balance in its pursuit of diplomacy in the Middle East built around multilateralism.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the Biden administration is reviewing billions of dollars in weapons transactions approved by former President Donald Trump, including the sales of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia and the F-35 fighters to the United Arab Emirates.

In late December last year, the Trump administration approved an export deal worth 290 million dollars to Saudi Arabia including 3,000 units of precision-guided glide bombs called GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb. The former U.S. president also signed an arms contract worth 23 billion dollars with the United Arab Emirates including 50 top-line F-35 fighters right before stepping down from office.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are two Middle Eastern countries that kept abreast with America’s diplomatic pace under the Trump administration. In his meeting with Mohammed bin Salman, the crown price of Saudi Arabia, in March 2018, Trump said the arms sales to Saudi Arabia helped create some 40,000 jobs in the U.S. In response to Trump’s pro-Israel policy, Abu Dhabi has kept close ties with Washington such as by establishing formal diplomatic relations with Israel in August last year. Some pundits said Trump’s approval on the exports of F-35 fighter jets was a quid pro quo for Abu Dhabi.

Unlike his predecessor, President Biden has a negative view on massive arms exports to the Middle East. In particular, suspending the sales of American weapons to Saudi Arabia was one of Biden’s campaign pledges. He denounced Saudi Arabia when it got involved in the civil war in Yemen and engaged in a bombing that resulted in massive civilian death tolls.

In his first press conference on Wednesday, Antony Blinken, the newly appointed Secretary of State, pressured Saudi Arabia, vowing to do “everything we can to get humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen.”

It appears the Biden administration has embarked on “obliterating Trump” in its Middle East policy as well. Richard Mills, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, told the UN Security Council on Tuesday that the U.S. will continue to support two-state solution in which Israel lives in peace with a viable Palestinian state. It was an overt declaration that Washington will work towards restoring relations with Palestine which went sour owing to Trump’s pro-Israel policies.

The Biden administration is also planning to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), from which the U.S. bolted in 2018 under the Trump administration. At the same time, the U.S. has made it clear that it is ready to respond to Iran’s potential military provocations, scrambling B-52 strategic bombers to the Persian Gulf for flight training on Wednesday. Experts say the latest show of force from Washington indicates a two-pronged approach with pressure and talks against Iran.

Hyun-Seok Lim lhs@donga.com