President Donald Trump’s push to sell advanced F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates is testing the Arab country’s recent peace deal with Israel, ongoing tensions with Iran and concerns over the humanitarian situation in Yemen, where the UAE is involved in an ongoing civil war.
Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord deferred all F-35-related questions to the State Department during a briefing Thursday with reporters, saying only she had “spent quite a bit of time in the region over the years in this role actively talking about F-16 upgrades, that has been an ongoing discussion that DSCA and the Air Force have worked on.”
The prospect of selling such a state-of-the-art fighter jet to the UAE has been a contentious one, dividing U.S. allies and adversaries alike, even if Abu Dhabi didn’t see the problem.
“We have legitimate requests that are there,” UAE State Minister for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said Thursday during a virtual talk with the Atlantic Council think tank. “We ought to get them.”
The only Middle Eastern military country operating the F-35 is Israel, a close U.S. ally surrounded by Arab nations, most of which have never recognized the majority-Jewish state since the 1948 war that accompanied its founding. Utilizing its close relationship with the U.S., Israel has sought to maintain a qualitative edge in the region, with exclusive access to such advanced equipment as the F-35, which has only been sold to a handful of allied nations around the world.
But with the UAE agreeing to normalize ties with Israel in a historic agreement brokered by Trump, the UAE argued that there was no longer a need for the Israelis to have air superiority over them — and the F-35 was on the market.
“Now the whole idea of a state of belligerency or war with Israel will no longer exist,” Gargash said, “so I think it should actually be easier.”
But even on the heels of the UAE-Israel agreement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu objected to such an arms sale.
“The historic peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates did not include Israel’s consent to any arms deal whatsoever between the United States and the UAE,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement released Tuesday. “From the outset, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has opposed the sale of F-35s and other advanced weaponry to any country in the Middle East, including Arab countries that have peace agreements with the State of Israel.”
The White House declined Newsweek‘s request for comment. The Pentagon said that, “As a matter of policy, we do not confirm or comment on proposed defense sales or transfers until they are formally notified to Congress.” The State Department referred Newsweek to Trump’s remarks at a press conference Wednesday evening.
The president said then that the F-35 sale was “under review,” noting that the UAE had “made a great advance in peace in the Middle East” in making a deal with Israel.
“I see a lot of countries coming in fairly quickly,” Trump said. “And when you have them all in, ultimately, Iran will come in too. There’ll be peace in the Middle East. That’ll be a nice. Iran will be very much neutralized. They never thought this could have happened.”
But that hasn’t happened yet.
On Thursday, Iran flexed its military might. Marking the national Defense Industry Day, the country’s armed forces exhibited a new ballistic missile and cruise missile named after Revolutionary Guard Quds Force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces paramilitary deputy commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, both slain in a January U.S. drone strike that fueled tensions in the Middle East.
The F-35 development followed a string of events fomenting unrest in the region, including unclaimed attacks on oil tankers, two of which belonged to the UAE. Unlike the U.S., the UAE did not blame Iran outright for the attacks. The top diplomats of Abu Dhabi and Tehran even spoke earlier this month in what was widely seen as a bid to defuse tensions.
However, the UAE’s recognition of Israel, Iran’s top foe, spurred what Iran’s highest-ranking general called a “fundamental change” in the Islamic Republic’s approach to one of the few Arabian Peninsula states with whom it enjoys working ties. On Monday, Iran seized a UAE vessel accused of illegally entering Iranian waters, and charged a UAE Coast Guard with opening fire on Iranian fishermen, killing two, in an incident that prompted Tehran to summon Abu Dhabi’s ambassador.
In addition to their differences over the Persian Gulf, Iran and the UAE were also at odds over the civil war in Yemen. Since 2015, the UAE has backed a Saudi-led coalition against the Zaidi Shiite Muslim rebels of Ansar Allah, also known as the Houthis. The group is aligned with Tehran, but both parties deny accusations that the Houthis receive direct support from the Islamic Republic.
Abu Dhabi and Riyadh’s Yemen campaign has also been met with criticism in Washington. U.S. lawmakers invoked the War Powers Act for the first time ever in April 2019 in a bid to halt U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia and the UAE over concerns regarding civilian casualties and links to Islamist militant groups, but Trump vetoed the measure.
A report released earlier this month by the State Department’s Office of Inspector General “found that the Department did not fully assess risks and implement mitigation measures to reduce civilian casualties and legal concerns” associated with last year’s $8.1 billion of U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Asked about this last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called this finding “totally unfounded.”
“We were very thoughtful about how we reviewed the risks,” Pompeo said. “We did it right. It was a careful process. All voices were heard inside of the State Department. Of course we want to protect civilian lives. We want to protect civilian lives in Yemen, we want to protect civilian lives in Riyadh and in Abu Dhabi, and in Dubai, and the decision that we made absolutely did that.”
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. | John Minchillo, File/AP Photo
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The fourth Covid-19 test result for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine came back negative Saturday after he received conflicting positive and negative results two days before, ahead of a scheduled meeting with President Trump.
The governor and first lady, Fran DeWine, were tested at Ohio State University “out of an abundance of caution” following a rollercoaster day Thursday that began with DeWine receiving a positive test result followed by two negatives. The governor announced the negative results on Twitter on Saturday afternoon, thanking “everyone who sent along good wishes.”
The Republican governor had to take a Covid-19 test Thursday morning in Cleveland as part of White House protocol for anyone scheduled to come in contact with the president. DeWine was administered a rapid point-of-care antigen test at a mobile testing site facilitated by the Republican National Committee, according to DeWine spokesperson Dan Tierney.
DeWine then headed to meet Trump at the airport to greet him.
“I was fully expecting to see the president that morning,” DeWine said in a press conference Friday. “But as we were driving to the airport to meet him, I was called and told about my positive result.”
DeWine was immediately driven back to Columbus, where the governor, his wife and four members of his staff took another test, a polymerase chain reaction test, at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
That test is the most commonly used test in the country and is considered the gold standard by medical professionals. More than 1.3 million Ohioans have been tested with it.
The result were checked twice, both negative.
The conflicting results underscore the problems with both kinds of tests and are bound to spur more questions about them. Many people in the U.S. can’t get lab results on the more accurate version for weeks, rather than the few hours it took the governor to find out.
Wuhan, the Chinese city planning to test all of its 11 million residents, has assessed more than three million people since April and will focus its testing efforts on the remaining residents.
Germany’s coronavirus-hit economy contracted by 2.2 percent in the first quarter, its steepest three-month slump since the 2009 financial crisis.
Officials confirmed the first coronavirus infection of a Rohingya refugee in the sprawling camps in southern Bangladesh.
Globally, more than 4.4 million people have been infected and more than 301,000 have died from COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University. About 1.6 million people have recovered.
Here are all the latest updates:
Portugal’s economy contracted 3.9 percent in the first quarter from the preceding three-month period as the coronavirus epidemic and subsequent restrictions on movement started taking their toll mainly in March, official data showed.
The National Statistics Institute also said in its flash estimate that the country’s gross domestic product shrank 2.4 percent compared to the same period a year earlier.
In the fourth quarter of 2019, the economy grew 0.7 percent quarter-on-quarter and 2.2 percent year-on-year.
Malaysia has reported 36 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours with no additional deaths, the health ministry said.
The country has recorded a total of 6,855 infections with 112 fatalities.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Malaysia has recorded a total of 6,855 infections with 112 fatalities [EPA]
The German economy contracted by 2.2 percent in the first quarter, its steepest three-month slump since the 2009 financial crisis as shops and factories were shut in March to contain the spread of the coronavirus, preliminary data showed.
On the year, gross domestic product in Europe’s largest economy fell by 2.3 percent from January to March after a 0.4 percent expansion in the previous three months, seasonally adjusted figures from the Federal Statistics Office showed.
Analysts polled by the Reuters agency had expected national output to shrink by 2.2 percent quarter-on-quarter and two 2 percent contraction year-on-year in seasonally adjusted terms.
The number of novel coronavirus cases in the Philippines’ has passed the 12,000 mark, and more than 800 people have now died, the health ministry said.
In a bulletin, the ministry reported 16 more coronavirus deaths, bringing the total to 806. It recorded 215 additional infections, increasing the total tally to 12,091. But 123 more patients have recovered, bringing total recoveries to 2,460.
Russia reported 10,598 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, pushing its nationwide case tally to 262,843.
Russia’s coronavirus taskforce said 113 people had died over the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll from the virus to 2,418.
Russia’s coronavirus taskforce says 113 people died in the country over the last 24 hours [Anadolu]
The risk of a COVID-19 resurgence in China from so-called imported infections is controllable, an official of the National Health Commission (NHC) said.
China reported four new coronavirus cases on the mainland on May 14, all of them locally transmitted. China has banned most foreigners from entering its borders since late March as the pandemic spread globally.
NHC Vice Minister Zeng Yixin also told reporters during a briefing that some COVID-19 vaccines are set to complete their second-phase clinical trials in July.
The Nana Otafrija service group, known as Ghana’s dancing pallbearers, provides funeral services featuring men dressed in black and white suits and sunglasses.
They get down to festive beats while carrying a coffin on their shoulders in funeral ceremonies.
The pallbearers have been enjoying international fame in pandemic times, urging people to stay home and exercise social distancing.
They say: “Now remember, stay at home or dance with us.”
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) May 15, 2020
Britain has given the green light to Abbott Laboratories to produce a COVID-19 antibody test, shortly after it gave the same approval to Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding, health officials said.
Mass antibody testing with millions of kits is being considered by many countries as a way to speed the reopening of economies devastated by lockdowns and to introduce more tailored social distancing measures.
Thailand reported seven new coronavirus cases, while the number of deaths remained unchanged at 56.
The new cases were all patients who arrived from Pakistan last week and have been in state quarantine, said Taweesin Wisanuyothin, a spokesman for the government’s Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration.
Thailand has confirmed a total of 3,025 cases since the coronavirus outbreak started in January and earlier in the week reported zero new daily cases for the first time in two months.
Thailand has confirmed a total of 3,025 cases since the coronavirus outbreak started in January [Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP]
Hello, I’m Umut Uras in Doha, Qatar, taking over from my colleague Zaheena Rasheed in Male, Maldives.
I’m handing over to my colleague, Umut Uras, in Doha, Qatar now. Here’s a quick summary of the latest developments:
– Slovenia called an end to its COVID-19 outbreak, becoming the first country to do so.
– Cafes and pubs are reopening in parts of Australia
– Brazil cases hit a daily record even as President Jair Bolsonaro lobbied business leaders to pressure the governor of Sao Paolo to lift lockdown measures.
China’s factory output rose for the first time this year as the world’s second-largest economy slowly emerged from its coronavirus lockdowns.
Industrial production climbed 3.9 percent in April from a year earlier, data showed on Friday, faster than the 1.5 percent increase forecast in a Reuters poll of analysts and following a 1.1 percent fall in March.
But China continues to face significant challenges in its services sector, particularly in retail. Of particular concern for policymakers ahead of next week’s annual meeting of Parliament is the prospect of a spike in unemployment, which poses serious political risks for the nation of 1.4 billion.
“Overall, this set of data shows only small and gradual improvements in economic activity, which could upset markets as China is seen as the ‘first out’ economy from COVID-19,” said Iris Pang, chief economist for Greater China at ING.
A World Health Organizations (WHO) modelling study has indicated the coronavirus could kill 150,000 people in Africa and infect 231 million people in a year unless urgent action is taken.
Authors of the research said even though many African nations have been swift to adopt containment measures, health systems could still quickly become overwhelmed.
That would divert already limited resources to tackle major health issues in the region, such as HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and malnutrition, worsening the effects of coronavirus.
“The region will have fewer deaths, but occurring more in relatively younger age groups, amongst people previously considered healthy – due to undiagnosed non-communicable diseases,” the report said, adding that these trends are already emerging.
Transmission is estimated to be greatest in smaller nations, with Mauritius found to have the highest risk of exposure. Of the continent’s larger countries, South Africa, Cameroon and Algeria were also in the top 10 for exposure risk.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) has reported 29 new cases, 17 of which are linked to bars and clubs in Seoul’s nightlife district of Itaewon.
The latest figures brought the total number of cases in the Itaewon cluster to 148.
The Yonhap news agency said health authorities will disinfect nightclubs and bars this weekend, “in an effort to prevent the Itaewon infection cluster from expanding into a mass outbreak.”
Wuhan, the original epicentre of China’s coronavirus outbreak, has tested more than three million residents for the pathogen since April and will now focus its testing efforts on the rest of its 11 million population, according to state media.
The priority will be residents who have not been tested before, people living in residential compounds that had previous cases of the virus, as well as old or densely populated estates, the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing a Wuhan government meeting.
Authorities in Wuhan plan to conduct tests on everyone in the city after detecting a cluster of infections over the weekend – the first since the city’s lockdown was lifted on April 8.
A medical worker takes a swab sample from a resident to be tested for the COVID-19 coronavirus in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on May 14, 2020. [STR/ AFP]
A UK charity is urging authorities in Bangladesh to lift internet restrictions in camps housing hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees after the first cases of the coronavirus were detected there on Thursday.
“We urge Bangladesh and the international community to do everything they can to ensure that all necessary aid reaches those who need it,” said Tun Khin, president of Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK).
“This must also be a wake-up call to the Bangladeshi authorities to lift internet restrictions in the camps. The current blackout is not just preventing aid groups from doing their jobs, but also blocking refugees from accessing life-saving information.”
Health officials in Costa Rica said 23 truck drivers entering the country from Nicaragua have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past week.
All of them were asymptomatic. Two others who showed symptoms were turned away without tests.
The results are another sign that the spread of the virus in Nicaragua could be greater than its government has acknowledged. The country has reported only 25 confirmed cases and eight deaths, and its government has not imposed social distancing measures and continues to promote mass gatherings.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned doctors about a serious rare inflammatory condition in children linked to the coronavirus.
The CDC’s case definition includes current or recent COVID-19 infection or exposure to the virus, a fever of at least 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celcius) for at least 24 hours, inflammatory markers in blood tests, and evidence of problems affecting at least two organs that could include the heart, kidneys, or lungs.
The agency called the condition multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children.
The global charity World Vision says four million girls are at risk of child marriage in the next two years because of the coronavirus pandemic, with deepening poverty likely to drive many families to marry off their daughters early.
The risks are further exacerbated by the fact that schools have been closed and organisations working to combat child marriage have been finding it harder to operate during lockdowns.
“When you have any crisis like a conflict, disaster or pandemic rates of child marriage go up,” Erica Hall, World Vision’s child marriage expert, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “If we don’t start thinking about how to prevent it now it will be too late. We can’t wait for the health crisis to pass first.”
Pupils observing social distance rules listen to their teacher at the Saint Germain de Charonne school in Paris on May 14, 2020, as primary schools in France reopen this week [Franck Fife/ AFP]
US President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club will partially reopen to members this weekend as South Florida slowly reopens from the coronavirus lockdown.
An email sent on Thursday to members said the Palm Beach resort’s Beach Club restaurant, its pool and its whirlpool will reopen on Saturday after being closed for two months, but its main building that includes hotel rooms, the main dining area and the president’s private residence will remain closed.
Members will have to practice social distancing and lounge chairs will be set two metres (six feet) apart. They will have to bring their own towels.
China has gone a month without announcing any new deaths from the coronavirus.
The National Health Commission reported four new cases of the virus on Friday, all local cross-infections in the northeast province of Jilin where a cluster of uncertain origin has been detected in recent days. The last time the commission reported any deaths was on April 14.
In total, China has reported 4,633 deaths among 82,933 cases since the virus was first detected late last year in the central city of Wuhan.
Brazil has registered a daily record of 13,944 new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday as President Jair Bolsonaro urged business leaders to push for lifting lockdown orders in the country’s financial centre, Sao Paulo.
Health ministry data showed a total of 202,918 confirmed cases and 13,933 deaths in Brazil, the hardest-hit country in Latin America, at the end of Thursday.
But Bolsonaro, who opposes the lockdowns, told a virtual gathering of business leaders to “play tough” with Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria, who has issued social distancing orders and said he will not comply with Bolsonaro’s latest decree to reopen gyms and beauty salons.
“One man is deciding the future of Sao Paulo,” Bolsonaro said, referring to Doria. “He is deciding the future of Brazil’s economy. With all due respect, you have to call the governor and play tough – play tough – because it’s a serious issue, it is war. Brazil is at stake.”
Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most populous state and home to a third of its economic output, has seen hospitals pushed to the limit as it records the worst outbreak in the country.
The Slovenian government is calling an official end to its coronavirus epidemic, becoming the first European country to do so after authorities confirmed less than seven new coronavirus cases each day for the past two weeks.
People now arriving in Slovenia from other European Union states will no longer be obliged to go into quarantine for at least seven days as was the case from early April, the government has said in a statement. But a 14-day quarantine remains in place for people coming in from non-EU states.
Citizens will still have to follow basic rules to prevent a possible spread of infection, the government has said, without elaborating. People have been required to wear masks in indoor public spaces, stand at least 1.5 metres (five feet) apart and disinfect hands upon entering public spaces.
The country of two million people has so far reported 1,464 coronavirus cases and 103 deaths.
New South Wales (NSW), Australia’s most populous state, is reopening restaurants, cafes and bars after a two-month shutdown, under the condition they limit customers to 10 at any one time.
Gladys Berejiklian, premier of NSW, has cautioned people to remain vigilant and maintain social distancing.
“Easing restrictions has failed in so many places around the world and I don’t want that to happen in NSW, I want people to have personal responsibility for the way we respond,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
In the Northern Territory, pubs are opening with no restrictions on patron numbers and there are no limits on public gatherings or house visits.
Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state, is currently retaining most of its lockdown measures.
Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m Zaheena Rasheed in Male, Maldives.
You can find all the updates from yesterday (May 14) here.