The announcement comes just one day after Secretary of State Antony Blinken was confirmed by the Senate, and is being touted as a “routine administrative action” as the new administration settles into their new posts.
“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 told Fox News Wednesday.
“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 State Department has not confirmed which countries will see arms deal freezes, but a report by the Wall Street Journal Wednesday noted that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are expected to be among the nations affected.
The U.S. and the UAE entered into a $23 billion deal late last year that would provide the Middle Eastern nation with 50 F-35 jets and 18 armed drones, along with other security equipment.
The agreement followed the normalization of diplomatic ties between Israel and the UAE in August – though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu originally called reports surrounding the arms deal “fake news.”
“The peace agreement with the U.A.E. does not include any clauses on the matter, and the United States clarified to Israel that it will always safeguard Israel’s qualitative edge,” Netanyhu said in August.
But UAE ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba, confirmed the intended sale in a tweet Wednesday, and noted that the arms agreement helps the U.S. in maintain regional stability.
“As in previous transitions, the UAE anticipated a review of current policies by the new administration,” the ambassador said. “Specifically, the F-35 package is much more then selling military hardware to a partner.”
“It also enables the UAE to take on more of the regional burden for collective security, freeing US assets for other global challenges, a long-time bipartisan US priority,” he continued.
Blinken similarly said the arms review was a matter of procedure in a Wednesday briefing.
“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.
Senate Democrats attempted to block the UAE arms agreement, citing concerns over the Arab nation’s involvement in Yemen – which is the scene of the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world, following years of civil war.
Incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-Calif., said he welcomed the decision to freeze the arm sales, saying the agreement was “inexplicably rushed without thorough review of implications for U.S. national security and protection of innocent lives in Yemen.”
“I encourage the Biden administration to carefully consider the broader regional security implications of these sales and to consult with Congress as it continues its due diligence on these and other arms sales,” Menendez said in a tweet Wednesday.
Rich Edison contributed to this report.