TEHRAN (Press Shia) – The Trump administration has cleared the UAE of wrongdoing and approved a possible sale of thousands of armored vehicles to the Persian Gulf state, US government officials said, despite evidence it made unauthorized transfers of American military hardware to militants in Yemen.
A CNN investigation in February last year revealed that both American allies, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, had given US-made equipment to al Qaeda-linked militants, Salafi militias, and other fighting factions in Yemen, despite their agreements with Washington.
Under those agreements, the UAE and Saudi Arabia were legally required to receive permission to transfer equipment to other parties, but that permission was never obtained, the US Department of Defense said at the time. Emirati officials denied they were in violation at the time, while the Saudis did not respond to requests for comment.
In the wake of the report, the US government launched its own investigation — which included dispatching teams to the UAE and Saudi Arabia — and put further deliveries of US hardware to the UAE on hold pending the results of that inquiry.
Two US officials with knowledge of the joint State Department and Pentagon investigation told CNN it took over a year to complete because of what one source described as delaying tactics by the UAE.
While the probe concluded earlier this year, its findings have not been made public. But multiple government officials on both sides of the aisle and within the administration said that the UAE has now been cleared.
The State Department has told some leaders in Congress that it is “satisfied no actual transfers were made,” and has “made sure the UAE fully appreciates the letter of their agreements” with the US, another source with knowledge of the investigation said.
With that assurance, the lawmakers gave their blessing to a new proposed sale of US military hardware to the UAE, the source said.
On May 7, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced that the Pentagon had approved the proposed sale of up to 4,569 surplus US-made Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles to the UAE for an estimated cost of $556 million. The sale would serve the US national interest by helping to support the security of “an important regional partner,” the DSCA news release said.
But a lack of transparency over the findings of the US investigation has raised questions about the propriety of the Trump administration’s decision to approve the proposed sale of MRAPs to the UAE, given the evidence of past unauthorized transfers and bipartisan Congressional opposition to several proposed arms sales last year. It also comes as Pompeo has been accused of pressuring officials to find ways to justify arms sales to Saudi.
In a statement last week, the UAE would not confirm or deny whether it had been cleared but said its “armed forces confirmed to the US government its continued adherence to the terms and conditions” of the arms sales.
The Pentagon said it could not comment on the investigation or subsequent conversations with Congress, and directed CNN to the State Department for further comment.
The State Department confirmed that its investigation had concluded. “We believe that the UAE now has a better understanding of its EUM (End User Monitoring) obligations,” an official said, without providing further details.
But some US government officials said they were concerned that the UAE was cleared of wrongdoing and that this contentious move was made while Congress was focused on the current coronavirus crisis. Two administration officials were willing to be quoted but asked not to be named due to fears of retribution.
“Look, the arms sales thing is really key for Trump personally and it’s been a real point of contention with Congress, even Republicans have been pushing back,” said one senior official with knowledge of the issue. “The Emirates is a key ally and we believe that this sale is in the US national interest. This felt like a good time to push this through.”
A second senior official familiar with the deal was much more concerned about the approval of the potential MRAP sales at the present time.
“We had real issues getting cooperation from them (the Emirates) on our investigation,” the official said. “Their sense was that they didn’t feel they’d done anything wrong, which doesn’t really bode well for future compliance, but the message we got from the top was Trump wants this done and now is a good time to push through.”
The National Security Council did not respond to a request for comment.
Congress and the Trump administration have been at loggerheads over the issue of US arms sales, with rare bipartisan unity shown in efforts to rein in the White House.
Elizabeth Warren and Chris Murphy, two Democratic senators who have led the push to stop arms sales to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, slammed the May 7 decision and called on the administration to make the findings of its investigation public.
The announcement was made only days before the State Department’s inspector general, Steve Linick, was fired by President Donald Trump at the recommendation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Allegations subsequently emerged that Pompeo had refused to cooperate with the inspector general, who was conducting an investigation into the administration’s attempt last year to fast-track arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Pompeo defended his push to have Linick dismissed in remarks Wednesday — saying he “should have done it some time ago” — but refused to explain his reasoning for the move. It was unclear whether the inspector general’s investigation spurred Pompeo to recommend his firing.
In May 2019, the Trump administration declared an emergency in an effort to bypass Congress and expedite $8.1 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other countries, citing the need to deter what it called “the malign influence” of Iran throughout the Middle East.