x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Hagel arrives in Abu Dhabi on last leg of Middle East tour

The new US defence secretary is expected to discuss details of the proposed sale of 25 F-16 fighter jets and so-called stand-off weapons.

US secretary of defence Chuck Hagel inspects Egyptian troops during an arrival ceremony at the ministry of defence in Cairo yesterday. He arrived in Abu Dhabi last night. Jim Watson /Getty Images
US secretary of defence Chuck Hagel inspects Egyptian troops during an arrival ceremony at the ministry of defence in Cairo yesterday. He arrived in Abu Dhabi last night. Jim Watson /Getty Images

ABU DHABI // US defence secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in Abu Dhabi last night to conclude a six-day trip to the region aimed at bolstering military ties with allies, including through a US$10 billion (Dh36.73bn) weapons deal to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel.

The new American defence secretary was expected to discuss details of the proposed sale of 25 F-16 fighter jets and so-called stand-off weapons - missile systems that have a broader range and better accuracy than previous acquisitions.

The sale is meant to send a "clear message to Iran" about America's commitment to security in the Arabian Gulf said Shashank Joshi, a research fellow specialising on the Middle East at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

"The US wants the region to take more of a stand on security," said Jamie Ingram, regional analyst at the risk firm IHS. "The UAE's military capabilities in terms of hardware are high."

In addition to boosting hardware, the proposed weapons package would also give Emirati and Saudi pilots the opportunity to train alongside the American military.

Mr Hagel arrived in Abu Dhabi from Cairo, where he met with the president, Mohammed Morsi, and defence minister General Abdel Fattah Al Sissi.

An unnamed senior defence official said in a pre-trip briefing on April 19 that Washington had retained good contacts with the Egyptian defence minister, who he said they can "talk to at any time", particularly since the change of regime from former president Hosni Mubarak.

Yesterday, Mr Hagel concluded meetings with the Saudi Arabian crown prince and defence minister, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, over the sale of stand-off weapons.

Pentagon press secretary George Little said the two also spoke about the conflict in Syria, the Iranian nuclear programme and the political transition in Yemen.

edickinson@thenational.ae