Moderator: Good evening to everyone from the Department of State’s Dubai Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from the Middle East and around the world to this on the record press briefing with Mira Resnick, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Regional Security in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. Deputy Assistant Secretary Resnick will discuss her participation in the Dubai Airshow and the United States’ continued support to security capacity-building in the Middle East. She will then take questions from participating journalists.
We are pleased to offer simultaneous interpretation for this briefing in Arabic. We request that everyone keep that in mind and speak slowly.
I’ll now turn it over to Deputy Assistant Secretary Resnick for her opening remarks. Over to you, DAS Resnick.
DAS Resnick: Thanks. Thanks so much, Geraldine. Thanks to all for joining today. Good evening. It’s really a pleasure to be here on the phone with all of you, but really great to be back in the region. As the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Regional Security in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, my primary focus is to provide oversight of the Office of Regional Security and Arms Transfers and its management of our $40 billion in annual foreign military sales, excess defense articles, and third-party transfers, and I also oversee the Office of Security Assistance and its $6.5 billion in security-sector assistance programs.
We have come to Dubai when so many of the problems that we face are global in scope, and our continued engagement in the Middle East is really all the more important. Increasingly complex global challenges demand strong partnerships because we know that we cannot act alone, and we face global problems whose consequences shape security at a regional level. And really, I think that one of the real lessons learned from my trip to the region is America’s leadership really matters here.
When the U.S. looks at the region today, we see substantial opportunities to advance our objectives. Our presence and our relationships with Middle East partners help prevent efforts by Russia and China to extend their influence into the region. Building and expanding security partnerships through security cooperation and defense trade enables our allies and partners to protect their sovereignty from malign influences, defend their borders, promote the rule of law in the air, on land, and at sea, respond to humanitarian crises, counternarcotics, transnational crime, terrorism. Doing that is just as critical to strengthening U.S. force posture and the power projection necessary to defend America’s interests.
I will say that this is a time where we are focused also on shoring up America’s core strengths – our people, our economy, our national defense, our democracy – to meet the strategic competition with China and Russia that is going to shape our future, and in that light, we’re very pleased that the bipartisan infrastructure bill has passed, was signed into law by the President yesterday, and really signals a future – a competitive future for the United States which allows us to focus on power projection around the world because when we are more competitive at home, we can be more competitive abroad.
Why don’t I stop there and be able to answer any questions that you may have.
Moderator: Thank you, DAS Resnick. We’ll now begin the question and answer portion of the call. So for those on the English line asking questions, please state your name and affiliation and limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing. Questions submitted in advance have been incorporated in the queue.
And our first question was pre-submitted by Muath Alamri of Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, and his question is: “Many experts and officials have warned about Iran’s ability to develop armed drones and threaten American interests in the Middle East. What is the U.S. strategy to confront that threat?”
DAS Resnick: Thank you. Thank you so much for that question. Regional actors like Iran continue to pursue game-changing capabilities and technologies. They threaten U.S. allies and partners, and they challenge regional stability. We will work with our regional partners to deter Iranian aggression and threats to sovereignty and territorial integrity. These emerging capabilities are real threats. We want to be able to help our partners address those real threats. And this is really where security cooperation is the most important component, making sure that our partners have what they need to be able to defend themselves, taking a real hard look at defense capability requirements, and seeing where the United States can play that critical role, both through security cooperation and through security assistance.
Moderator: Thank you. Our next question will go to Michel Ghandour from Alhurra.
Question: Yes, thank you for doing the call. I have a couple of questions. First, any update on Qatar request to buy drones and the F-35 fighter jets? And what about F-35 deal with the UAE? And if you have any comment on the UAE hosting the Russian Sukhoi-75 aircraft in the expo, and is there any message there, do you think?
DAS Resnick: Thank you so much for that question. I have nothing to share at this time on Qatar – on either of the requests that you mentioned. On the UAE F-35, we are tracking that the Biden-Harris administration intends to move forward with those proposed defense sales to the UAE, even as we continue consulting with the Emirati officials to ensure that we have unmistakably clear, mutual understandings with respect to Emirati obligations and actions before, during, and after delivery.
Those projection dates are far in the future for those sales, so, if implemented, we have some real time to be able to consult. And I anticipate a continued, robust, and sustained dialogue with the UAE to ensure that any defense transfers meet our mutual national security strategic objective to really build a stronger, interoperable, more capable security partnership while protecting U.S. technology. I was on the flight line today, and there were lines around the corner to see the static display of the F-35. There’s real interest in this plane, which is a real game-changing opportunity for the UAE and for our partnership, and we look forward to implementing that sale.
Moderator: Great. Next, we’ll go to Bryant Harris from The National.
Question: Hey, Mira. Thanks so much for doing the call. To follow up on the UAE F-35 sale, per the interview you did with Associated Press a little earlier, you said the U.S. is still looking for clarifications on some of the commitments the UAE made to the previous administration. Can you elaborate on what those clarifications are? And with regards to Turkey seeking a new F-16 sale, the Turkish defense minister said there is a delegation in Washington this week to continue talks on the sale. Can you confirm whether that is the case and give us a bit of an update on those talks? Thanks so much.
DAS Resnick: Hi, Bryant. Good to hear your voice. On the F-35s, I don’t have anything further to share about assurances at this time. We’ve had quite a robust and sustained dialogue with Emirati officials, and I can sort of leave it at that.
On Turkey, we remain committed to keeping Turkey interoperable with NATO and with us, and I don’t have anything on any particular meeting.
Moderator: Great. Thank you. Our next question was pre-submitted by Omar Albarghouty from Asharq, and his question is: “What can you tell us about new security cooperation between the United States and Gulf countries in light of current political developments?”
DAS Resnick: Well, a broad question for sure. So I’ll say that the United States and Gulf countries work together very closely on deterrence and making sure that our partners have what they need in order to defend themselves. We have worked to make sure that our partners are well aware of their obligations using U.S.-origin equipment when it comes to civilian harm mitigation efforts. And as the Secretary has said, we put human rights at the center of our foreign policy. So as we make decisions, that is something that we are consistently considering as one of many elements of our considerations when it comes to the transfer of U.S.-origin equipment.
Moderator: Next, we’ll go to Monalisa Freiha from Annahar newspaper in Lebanon.
Question: Hello. U.S. Arab allies in the region are increasingly turning to Russia and China for their weapons, maybe because of the U.S.’s slowing some deals with the UAE and Saudi. Is the U.S. ready to face Russia as a possible competitor in this field?
DAS Resnick: Thanks for your question. I think if you see the data – I would argue with the premise of your question. The United States remains the partner of choice of all of our partners and allies in the region. And it’s really because none of the strategic competitors are able to offer what the United States offers, which is a relationship, which is working with us on security cooperation. None of the strategic competitors are able, they’re not capable or willing to offer what the United States offers. So our partners and allies are well aware of that, and that is why they consistently choose the United States.
Moderator: Now, we’ll go to the line of Essa Nahari from Independent Arabia.
Question: Hi. Just days ago, Houthis stormed the U.S. Embassy compound in Yemen and detained at least 25 local employees. My question is, what efforts were made by the U.S. to free those employees? And my second question is about the ongoing effort in Congress to reapply sanctions on Houthis and whether the administration is considering placing Houthis again on the terrorist list?
DAS Resnick: Thanks for the question. A little bit outside of my scope here. I will do my best. I’m going to refer you back to others on the employees in Yemen. Obviously, very concerning. And on Houthi sanctions, again, a little bit outside my scope in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. The United States has applied sanctions to various Houthi individuals in order to make sure that the United States position is very clear. The Houthis have been intransigent in this conflict, and that is why it’s important to move forward with those specific targeted sanctions. Obviously, the bill becomes a law after many steps. So we’ll have to refrain from commenting on any particular bill, but looking forward to having that discussion.
Moderator: Next, we’ll go to the line of Raji Unnikrishnan from Gulf Daily News in Bahrain.
Question: Yes, thank you for taking the time. I have two questions. One may be a broader question as in, how do you assess the strategic security threat to the Middle East, especially with GCC in particular? How do you think or what are your observations currently? What do you – how do you feel – especially to a country like Bahrain and the effect from the Iranian [inaudible] actors?
And the second one is: Have you seen the demands for [inaudible] securing in the region going higher? And any comment on Bahrain and its defense for the U.S.? Thank you.
DAS Resnick: I didn’t get the second question. Can you repeat that?
Question: What in your opinion – have you seen the different demands or requirements in the region going up in terms of securing the defense requirements? Do you see the demands going up? And any comment on Bahrain?
DAS Resnick: Got it. So, I think that on your first question, we see several threats in the region. We’ve spoken about Iranian aggression, threats to sovereignty and territorial integrity. We work with our partners to disrupt al-Qaida and really terrorist networks; preventing ISIS resurgence in the region; to address humanitarian crises. We work to redouble our efforts to resolve complex armed conflicts throughout the region that really threaten regional stability.
With respect to defense requirements, yes, we of course see different defense requirements from many in the region, including Bahrain. I think that the most salient defense requirement that we are seeing right now is on countering UAS, because we do see this as an emerging technology and a threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our partners, and this is something that we will continue to work on with our partners to be able to address those defense capabilities. There are often layered solutions to this problem, and this is something that we will continue to focus on.
Moderator: Our next question was pre-submitted by Mike Wagenheim from i24 News in Israel, and his question is: “The commander of the Lebanese armed forces, General Joseph Aoun, was reportedly in Washington for talks a few weeks ago. Can you provide an overview of the substance of those talks and how, beyond direct aid, the U.S. plans to assist the Lebanese armed forces?”
DAS Resnick: Thanks. Thanks for that question. Our discussions with our Lebanese counterparts really focus on the urgent moment, the urgent crises that Lebanon is facing today, obviously all stemming from the political decision that has really kept the country in limbo but has real consequences for the people of Lebanon and for their security forces, particularly the ISF and the LAF. These are institutions that are really the only – they are the institutional counterweights to Hizballah, and our support for the LAF and the ISF is really critical to make sure that we don’t see the worst that could happen in Lebanon. We are actively considering what our options are in order to support the LAF and the ISF and make sure that these are institutions that can survive, that can help bridge Lebanon in order to make those political decisions and make sure that their leadership are able to make the right political decisions for their people.
Moderator: Next, we go to Jared Szuba from Al-Monitor.
Question: Hi, Mira. Thank you for doing this. I’m just wondering if – just to clarify, did you happen to have the chance to speak directly to Emirati officials during this trip about U.S. concerns and expectations regarding securing the F-35 in the future? And secondly, is the Biden administration taking seriously Rostec’s projection to market the Sukhoi-75 by 2026? Thank you.
DAS Resnick: Thanks, Jared. Good to hear your voice. I did have an opportunity to meet with Emirati officials, and I know that there will be several opportunities in the future to do so as well. We have a lot of high-level discussions with Emirati officials; and we look forward to continuing those discussions now and in the future.
On Russian procurement, I don’t have anything to offer at this time. Our partners know the risks of CAATSA sanctions and that we are very serious about implementing CAATSA, whether it is in this region or around the world.
Moderator: Next, we’ll go to Mostafa Salem from CNN.
Question: Yeah, hello. Thank you very much for doing this. So, it seems there is U.S. encouragement for the Egyptian gas deal and Jordan electricity deal to help solve the Lebanese energy crisis, despite the fact that the Syrian Government, led by Assad, is part of the deal. So, is this a message as, like, Syria rather than Iran when it comes to Lebanon?
Also, I have a second question to you, if you don’t mind. We’re getting reports on the opening of a Saudi-Iran dialogue channel, and we also see more comments from the UAE on a non-confrontational role with Iran. So, does that warming up worry the U.S. at this stage?
DAS Resnick: Let me take those in that order. Again, a little bit outside my purview on the energy realm, but I can say that this, to us, is about Lebanon and making sure that Lebanon is able to weather this crisis. And so that is why you see U.S. engagement on this issue.
On Saudi-Iran opening talks, I don’t have much to say here other than we’re supportive of efforts to de-escalate in the region, and this sort of dialogue is part and parcel of that effort.
Moderator: Great. And our final question will go to [inaudible]. Operator, please open the line. Hello, Barak, are you on the line?
Question: Yes, sorry, I’m here. Hi, Mira. Good talking to you. In recent weeks, there were several presence patrols by B-1 bombers, U.S. Air Force B-1 bombers in the Middle East over Israel and the Gulf. We saw this joint exercise of the Fifth Fleet in the Red Sea with Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain. Does this power demonstration by the U.S. – is any sort of signal towards Iran?
DAS Resnick: Thanks, Barak. This – these two exercises that you mention are – I would categorize as security cooperation. This is good news for the region, for countries to be interoperable with each other. This is something that we’ve been focusing for a long time, long before any particular issue with Iran has come up. It’s very good news for the region to be able to do these kinds of overt, open security cooperation exercises that really help to protect the people of the region.
Moderator: Thank you, DAS Resnick. I’ll turn it back over to you if you have any closing remarks.
DAS Resnick: Thank you. Thank you so much, Geraldine, and thank you all for joining today. It’s been a real pleasure to be here in Dubai to be able to work with U.S. industry, to be able to work with governments from around the world, to be able to discuss some of the regional threats and also to be able to focus on the very important work of the State Department and DOD together, working together to make sure that our partners have what they need in order to defend themselves. The United States came with 300 civilian and military personnel to the Dubai Airshow. We will see that there will be additional visitors to the Gulf in coming days and weeks, and it’s a very exciting time. Obviously, the UAE did a wonderful job of hosting simultaneous mega-events, and we’re really thrilled to be a partner here.
That’s it for me, and again, thank you very much for joining this evening.
Moderator: That concludes today’s call. We’d like to thank everyone for dialing in today and we thank our speaker, Deputy Assistant Secretary Mira Resnick, for her time. If you have any questions about today’s call, you can contact the Dubai Regional Media Hub at DubaiMediaHub@state.gov. Information on how to access the English recording of this call will be provided by AT&T shortly. Thanks, everyone, for joining us and have a great day.
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