Biden administration is pressuring UAE to withdrawHuawei Technologies Co. of its telecommunications network and take other steps to distance itself from Beijing, increasing the risk that the country’s purchase of some $ 23 billion of F-35 planes and drones is at stake, people familiar with the matter said.
The United States is asking the United Arab Emirates to remove Huawei equipment from its networks over the next four years – before there are plans to get the F-35 in 2026 or 2027 – but Emirati officials have retorted that ‘They would need more time and an alternative that is as affordable, according to three of the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private negotiations. Discussions focused in part on the feasibility of obtaining alternative equipment fromSamsung Electronics Co., Ericsson AB orNokia Oyj.
The dispute over the UAE’s use of Huawei has been brewing since the Trump administration, when US officials unsuccessfully tried to persuade the UAE – a crucial ally in a turbulent region – to reverse the trend of strengthening ties military and economic with China, which is seeking increased influence in the Middle East.
Several people familiar with the situation said Trump administration officials initially persuaded Emirati officials to replace Huawei and anticipate any Chinese base plans in the region. But the Emiratis insisted on more ambiguous language in a deal that was reached in the final hours of Donald Trump’s presidency.
President Joe Biden announced a review of the sale of the F-35 when he took office. The sale is underway for now, but people familiar with the matter have said the differences over what the United States and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to – on Huawei and other concerns about Chinese technology – are serious enough that there is still no guarantee that the UAE will ever get an advanced fighter aircraft manufactured byLockheed Martin Corp.
The situation gives a first indication that the Biden administration will continue the Trump team’s efforts to pressure its allies to ban Huawei, China’s largest tech company, from new 5G systems on the grounds that the equipment could be used. to spy for the Chinese government. China has denied that this is a possibility.
U.S. officials have declined to say publicly whether they have demanded the UAE to remove and replace Huawei.
“The Biden-Harris administration considers 5G security a high priority,” Stephen Anderson, acting Assistant Under Secretary of State for International Communications and Information Policy, said in a statement. “The United States works with allies and partners to support a diverse supply chain of trusted telecommunications equipment and services.
A person familiar with the UAE’s negotiating position, who asked not to be identified to discuss private deliberations, said the country understands the importance of protecting sensitive technology. The person said talks are well advanced and there is plenty of time to work out the technical details.
China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that “we share the view that Sino-UAE cooperation serves the common interests of both sides and benefits both peoples” and that “it has nothing to do with it. with and does not tolerate interference from third parties “.
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The situation is reminiscent of an American standoff with Turkey, which the Pentagon cut as a buyer and supplier of parts for the F-35 after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan bought a missile defense system from Russia while he deepened his ties with this American adversary.
Likewise, the UAE has sought to nurture its long-standing alliance with the United States while cultivating closer economic and security ties with China in order to guard against declining U.S. involvement in the region. Emirati leaders are also pissed off by the Biden administration’s desire to revert to the Iran nuclear deal Trump abandoned in 2018. China, along with other world powers, is in negotiations to restore the deal.
For the United States, the balance is delicate: the United Arab Emirates plays an important role in the region and has been a leader the driving force behind the Abrahamic accords that normalized ties with Israel. But putting too much pressure on the Emirati leadership over Huawei risks pushing the UAE – and other nations – further into China’s arms.
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Expanding relations with China “make the US government nervous, but it is too late to go back,” Karen Young, senior researcher at the Middle East Institute, said of the United Arab Emirates. “I don’t think they’ll ever be buddy-buddies, and China will never be a security guarantor for the Gulf, but they are useful.”
The Biden administration’s final decision on the F-35 is not necessarily expected to be made until the end of its current term in 2024. Among the considerations: although the aircraft’s communication networks are considered relative to the Sheltered from Chinese eavesdropping, Huawei’s presence in the UAE’s commercial zone networks could potentially allow China to spy on pilots, contractors and others at bases where the F-35 would be located.
The United States is also concerned that China could steal technology from the American drones that are said to be part of the sale.
Read more: Biden’s overhaul of Trump’s China blacklist leaves room for Dialogue
Emirati figures have not publicly challenged the United States over their requests to withdraw from Huawei, but they have made it clear that they are unhappy with the U.S. request as U.S. officials have still not offered a move. viable alternative. China was the UAE’s largest trading partner in 2020 with $ 53.67 billion in total trade, more than double what it had with the United States
Huawei is the UAE’s partner company for its 5G network rollout under a deal announced in 2019. At the time, UAE telecommunications operator Etisalat said Huawei would build 300 5G towers. in six months, before Dubai hosted Expo 2020. Last year, Huawei released a chief security officer in the United Arab Emirates, saying it would work with the Gulf State on cybersecurity and in place of smart cities – urban areas that collect data using electronic methods, local mediareported.
“We have to be able to test and experiment with technologies with everyone and decide what is really the most useful, the safest and the most commercial for us,” said Khaldoon Al Mubarak, managing director of the fund. from Abu Dhabi Mubadala Investment Co. – and the United Arab Emirates. the president’s special envoy to China – former US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson said on his “Straight Talk” podcast on May 28. Any replacement must be “a competitive alternative, not only from a price point of view but also from a technological point of view,” he said. mentionned.
Previous writings by current officials in the Biden administration suggest skepticism about the UAE’s ability to protect US technology and any promises it might make not to deploy US weapons in conflicts facing states. -United are opposed, as in Libya or Yemen.
Dana Stroul, who is now Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, and Barbara Leaf, the former Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates whom Biden appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, highlighted these concerns in an article that appeared in “War on the Roches” last year.
“The divergent policies of United States and the United Arab Emirates – including the use of military force, conduct in combat and the use of US defense items – should be considered part of the F-35 deliberations, ”they wrote. .
Analysts say the United Arab Emirates are not seeking to replace or reproduce their relationship with the United States. but its leaders see it as a strategic alignment with the Chinese model, focused on economic and technological development, and the stability of its political system – especially after the unrest in the United States and the dramatic changes in American foreign policy that have accompanied the change from former President Barack Obama to Trump, and now to Biden.
“The UAE’s relationship with China goes beyond technology,” said Jonathan Fulton, senior researcher at the Atlantic Council and specialist in China-Gulf relations. “It’s really about what they see as a reliable long-term partner. “
– With the help of Zainab Fattah, Jennifer Jacobs, Yuan Gao and Colum Murphy