Senate Rejects Resolutions Seeking to Block F-35 Sale to UAE

© Photographer: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images North America BEAUFORT, SC - MARCH 08: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) The F-35B Lightning II fifth generation multi role combat aircraft showing the vertical lift fan, at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort on March 8, 2016 in Beaufort, South Carolina. UK personnel from the Royal Navy and RAF are embedded with the US Marine Corps on the F-35 operational training programme, based in Beaufort, South Carolina. This includes pilots and engineers, with numbers of UK personnel starting to grow in the build to the reforming of 617 Squadron (the Dambusters) in summer 2018. The Dambusters will reform at Beaufort before returning to the UK, to be based at RAF Marham. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

(Bloomberg) — The U.S. Senate voted against the consideration of two resolutions to block the sale of F-35 fighter jets, Reaper drones and other advanced weapons to the United Arab Emirates, paving the way for the deal to progress before President Donald Trump leaves office next month.

The senators who introduced the measures — two Democrats and one Republican — said they were concerned about an arms race among countries in the Middle East and objected to what they called the rushed nature of the sales. They said they opposed Trump expediting the sales as part of a diplomatic agreement signed in September between Israel and the UAE.

“This is about national security concerns that we should have an answer to,” said New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, who introduced the resolutions along with fellow Democratic Senator Chris Murphy and Republican Senator Rand Paul. “There are far too many outstanding questions — very serious questions — about long-term U.S. national security interests.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged all senators to vote against the resolutions of disapproval calling them “a protest gesture with no chance of obtaining a veto-proof majority,” which would undermine U.S. interests in the region.

“China and Russia will be more than happy to meet the demand for advanced capabilities if the U.S. simply takes our ball and goes home,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

With the two resolutions to block the sale failing to get enough support, the arms transactions will be on track, although they could take many years to complete. President-elect Joe Biden is unlikely to raise separate objections, and he probably won’t be forced to take an explicit position on the issue, according to analysts.

The Trump administration said the president would have vetoed the measures if they passed both houses of Congress.

Military Edge

The atmosphere around the arms deal has changed considerably in the weeks since the resolutions were initially introduced. The bills’ sponsors said they were concerned about how the arms sales would affect Israel, but that country has warmed to the idea. Israel’s U.S. ambassador, Ron Dermer, told MSNBC this week his country was “very comfortable” with the deal.

Israel is guaranteed a “qualitative military edge” in weapons sales by the U.S., a measure meant to guarantee it has superior weaponry in the case of a regional war.

Biden spokesman Ned Price declined to comment on the resolutions. But Dennis Ross, a former U.S. Mideast peace negotiator now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the incoming president would likely be in favor of the deal going through.

“I think the Biden people and the people around him see it as a positive thing,” Ross said. “If the Israelis are not raising objections, why would they?”

At the same time, the dispute around the resolutions has further exacerbated tension between Qatar and the UAE because Qatar has hired lobbying firms including Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP to lobby members of Congress — including the office of Senator Chris Coons and Representative Adam Schiff — on the F-35 issue.

“Qatar’s position is they don’t’ want to persuade Congress one way or the other — they do share many of the concerns that have been voiced by the House and the Senate,” former Representative Jim Moran, a Virginia Democrat who is now a senior policy adviser at Nelson Mullins. “Their objective is to secure peace and stability throughout the Middle East. They don’t want to have to participate in any kind of arms race.”

Nonetheless, that prompted a request from UAE that the Trump administration tell Qatar to stop arguing against UAE getting the F-35, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified, and has further ratcheted up tension between the two nations.

On Tuesday, UAE State Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Anwar Gargash suggested his country wouldn’t stand in the way of efforts to defuse tension, saying in a tweet the Emirates looks forward to a successful GCC summit.

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