By Cheryl Pellerin
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s first trip to the Middle East included a visit and official dinner with Gen. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the United Arab Emirates armed forces.
The two men met last night and reaffirmed the strong U.S. commitment to defense and security cooperation between their countries, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today in a statement.
In particular, he said, they discussed the United Arab Emirates’ purchase of 25 F-16 Block 60 aircraft and the U.S. decision to release standoff weapons for sale to defend the United Arab Emirates. The smart standoff weapons can navigate to their targets and are more precise and can be fired at further distances than conventional weapons.
“The additional F-16s will increase both nations’ interoperability and enhance their ability to perform joint and coalition security operations,” Little added.
Hagel expressed appreciation for United Arab Emirates’ contributions to NATO missions in Afghanistan and Libya.
“The secretary and the crown prince concurred on the need to build on the already robust defense ties, which include bilateral exercises and training, to expand cooperation in such areas as ballistic missile defense,” Little said.
The United States and the United Arab Emirates agreed to hold regular bilateral defense consultations to further coordinate expanding military activities, the press secretary said.
They also discussed a range of regional challenges, he said, including the need for Iran to meet its international obligations with respect to its nuclear program, the ongoing conflict in Syria, and countering the threat of violent extremism.
Hagel’s trip to the Middle East, which began April 20 and ends later today, also took the secretary to Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to discuss common issues and interests in the region.