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International relations

Pompeo checks off Taiwan talks and UAE F-35s from to-do list

Secretary of state plans seven-nation trip to spotlight Trump's achievements

An F-35 fighter jet pilot and crew prepare for a mission at Al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates. The Trump administration has formally notified Congress that it plans to sell 50 advanced F-35 fighter jets to the UAE as part of a broader arms deal worth more than $23 billion. (U.S. Air Force via AP)

NEW YORK -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified Congress on Tuesday that the department has approved more than $23 billion in weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates, widely seen as a reward to the Gulf nation for establishing diplomatic ties with Israel.

Pompeo also announced that Keith Krach, undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, will lead a new bilateral economic dialogue with Taiwan on Nov. 20, adding to the list of recent actions by the administration to showcase American support for the island -- and one that is sure to anger China.

The two major moves came the day after Defense Secretary Mark Esper's ouster and signaled that President Donald Trump and close ally Pompeo want to put their stamp on diplomacy ahead of Inauguration Day on Jan. 20.

Under normal circumstances, such steps could be labeled lame-duck diplomacy and perhaps questioned for limiting the diplomatic choices of the new administration. But these are unusual times. Pompeo raised eyebrows at Tuesday's press briefing by predicting that "there will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration."

Pompeo announced that he will be embarking on a seven-nation trip from Friday, visiting France, Turkey, Georgia, Israel, Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The stops in Israel and the UAE aim to highlight their historic deal. The Saudis, while not establishing ties with Israel themselves, are widely seen as having given their blessing to the UAE's move.

Both the weapons sales to the UAE and the economic talks with Taiwan are contentious issues.

The weapons the U.S. plans to sell the UAE include up to 50 F-35A fighters and up to 18 MQ-9B drones, as well as missiles, bombs and military software.

"We continue to review arms sales all across the world, including to our important friend and partner in the United Arab Emirates, and we're confident we will be able to provide them weapon systems that will ensure their security and do the work that we all need to do collectively to counter the threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran," Pompeo said.

Despite the diplomatic breakthrough with the UAE, Israel had opposed the F-35A sale, saying it could alter the balance of power in a dangerous region.

Amnesty International USA issued criticized the deal as reopening "the floodgates for arms sales with weakened human rights criteria, and potential fuel for more brutal conflicts."

The economic talks with Taiwan, dubbed the Economic Prosperity Partnership Dialogue, will be held in Washington and will be represented on the Taiwanese side by Chen Chern-chyi, a deputy minister of economic affairs.

Pompeo said the talks would include ensuring safe and secure supply chains and 5G security.

"The dialogue signifies that our economic relationship with Taiwan, a vibrant democracy and a reliable partner, is strong and growing," he said.

Krach angered Beijing by visiting Taipei in September, making him the most senior State Department official to visit Taiwan in more than four decades. This followed a trip by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in August.

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