x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 September 2017

Iran complains at US F-22 fighter jets in UAE

Deployment of the most advanced fighter aircraft in US arsenal in the region is claimed to be ‘both harmful and useless’.

TEHRAN // The United States's deployment of cutting-edge F-22 fighter jets to the UAE "will endanger the region's security", Iran said yesterday.

"We do not in any way approve the presence of foreign forces in the region. We advise the regional countries against providing a basis for their presence," the Islamic republic's foreign ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast said.

His comment reinforced criticism voiced on Monday by the defence minister, Ahmad Vahid. He was quoted by the Al-Alam television channel as saying: "Such deployments in the region are both harmful and useless.

"They are mostly done to create a psychological trend and a sense of insecurity in the region."

US officials said an unspecified number of F-22 Raptors had been sent to Al Dhafra air base in the UAE.

A US air force spokeswoman confirmed the presence of the aircraft - the most advanced fighter jets in the US arsenal - in the region, while a Pentagon spokesman, Capt John Kirby, described it as "a very normal deployment".

The dispatch of the F-22s, though, comes at a moment of high tension in the Gulf.

The US is leading its allies in a showdown with Iran over its controversial nuclear programme.

While the issue is currently the subject of talks - the next round of which is due to take place in Baghdad on May 23 - Israel and the US have both warned that military action remains an option should diplomacy fail.

Iran has hit back, saying it could close the strategic Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf to oil-tanker traffic if it is threatened.

At the same time, Tehran has criticised Saudi Arabia over its pledge to pump more oil at a time when Iranian oil exports are being cut by western sanctions.

Iran and the UAE are also involved in a simmering dispute over ownership of three islands in the Gulf occupied illegally by Iran on the eve of the founding of the UAE in 1971. Washington has sided with the UAE in that dispute.

In December, the US announced a $3.48 billion (Dh12.78bn) arms sale to the UAE for missile-defence batteries and radars.

Two US aircraft carriers and their escort ships are currently in the Gulf.

Mr Mehmanparast said in his briefing: "Regional countries should resort to collective cooperation to ensure their security. Seeking foreign countries or their equipment not only will not provide security but will endanger the region's security."

Mr Vahadi likewise said Gulf countries should cooperate on security, and was quoted as saying: "The presence of foreign forces in the region will only complicate the situation further and lead to insecurity."