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Hagel Concludes First Middle East Visit - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks with reporters after meeting Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and Egypt's Defence Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo, April 24, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Watson/Pool

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks with reporters after meeting Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and Egypt’s Defence Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo, April 24, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Watson/Pool

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—US defense secretary Chuck Hagel is set to complete his first tour of the Middle East today, after visiting the United Arab Emirates as the last stop on his five-nation trip.

After visiting Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Hagel arrived in Abu Dhabi last night for talks with leaders and officials.

He is expected to discuss a major new arms sale to the UAE’s military, primarily the acquisition of 25 new F-16 combat jets, in addition to the 80 already in service with UAE’s air force, at a cost of almost USD 5 billion.

The deal also includes long-range missiles designed to strike ground targets to equip the new jets, as well as allowing Emirati pilots to train alongside the US Air Force.

A similar package of weapons and training opportunities has been agreed with Saudi Arabia, which Hagel visited on Tuesday for discussions with Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, who serves as first deputy prime minister and minister of defense.

Saudi Arabia has also ordered new aircraft and upgrades to its existing fleet from the US in recent years to the tune of almost USD 30 billion, one of the largest arms deals in US history.

US arms sales to its Gulf allies are aimed primarily at deterring Iran, according to many analysts. The sales are intended as a “clear message to Iran” about American concerns over Gulf security, Shashank Joshi, a research fellow specializing in the Middle East at the Royal United Services Institute in London, told Abu Dhabi’s The National newspaper.

In addition to concerns about Iran and the new arms agreements, Hagel is understood to have discussed the worsening situation in Syria with regional leaders.

This week, new allegations have been made about the use of chemical weapons in the conflict in Syria, with claims from a senior Israeli military officer on Tuesday that the Syrian government had used poison gas on the battlefield.

Israel was Hagel’s first stop, but when speaking to reporters in Cairo yesterday he denied that he had seen any Israeli assessment proving that chemical weapons had been used. He stated that the US would rely on its own intelligence.