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US 'looking closely' into Qatar's F-35 request, official says

State Department official says Qatar is 'exceptional partner' that 'deserves full consideration of its requests'
Last year, Qatar reportedly submitted a formal request to the US to purchase the F-35 fighter jets
Last year, Qatar reportedly submitted a formal request to the US to purchase the F-35 fighter jets (AFP/File photo)
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Washington

A US State Department official has said that Washington is looking into Qatar's request to purchase F-35 fighter jets, highlighting that Doha is an "exceptional partner" in the region.

"We're looking closely into these requests. What I can say is that Qatar has proven that it is an exceptional partner in defense issues such as the expansion of the Al Udeid Air Base, Afghanistan and many others," Daniel Benaim, deputy assistant secretary of state for Arabian Peninsula affairs, told Alhurra TV on Monday.

The official said that Qatar is an "exceptional partner" that "deserves full consideration of its requests". Still, Benaim noted there are no updates regarding the sales.

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Last year, Qatar reportedly submitted a formal request to the US to buy the American-made advanced fighter planes following a deal Washington made with its neighbour, the United Arab Emirates, to purchase 50 F-35s. That deal came after the Emirates agreed to normalise relations with Israel in a US-brokered agreement.

On Tuesday, deputy US assistant secretary of state Mira Resnick said the US was fully committed to the proposed sale to the UAE, but also noted that there are ongoing discussions with their Emirati counterparts with regards to an "unmistakable, clear mutually understanding with respect to Emirati obligations".

If approved, the UAE would be the first Gulf state and the first country in the Middle East outside of Israel to possess the warplanes.

Former Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said last year that Israel will oppose any attempt by the US to sell the F-35 warplane to Qatar. However, an Israeli cabinet said the deal could happen despite those objections.

While a number of Middle East countries, including the UAE and Bahrain, have normalised ties with Israel, Doha has opposed such a move without a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Qatari frustrations

Qatar, a gas-rich nation that hosts a major US air base, is the second-largest buyer of US military equipment after Saudi Arabia, with more than $26bn in proposed purchases.

The country also helped evacuate thousands of Afghans and US citizens following the American withdrawal from the country and the Taliban's takeover of the Afghan capital, Kabul, on 15 August.

Yet the Gulf country and US ally has expressed frustration over the delayed approval of another proposed military sale, this one for four MQ-9b Predator drones.

"The frustration from our perspective is that there is no clear indication as to why there is a delay on our request," an unnamed Qatari government official told the Wall Street Journal last month.

While the Pentagon has been pushing for the $500m sale of drones to Doha, the State Department has delayed approval of the request out of fears it would anger other Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and the UAE.