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UAE signs deal with U.S. to buy 50 F-35 jets and up to 18 drones -sources

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F-35 Lightning II pilot U.S. Air Force Captain Kristin "BEO" Wolfe performs the "dedication pass" maneuver at the 2020 Fort Lauderdale Air Show in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. November 21, 2020. Picture taken November 21, 2020. U.S. Air Force/Capt. Kip Sumner/Handout via REUTERS.

WASHINGTON, Jan 20 (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates has signed an agreement with the United States to purchase 50 F-35 jets and up to 18 armed drones, people familiar with the situation told Reuters on Wednesday.

Although the UAE and the United States were working to ink a deal before President Joseph Biden took office on Wednesday, the new president has said he will re-examine the agreements.

The UAE, one of Washington's closest Middle East allies, has long expressed interest in acquiring the stealthy F-35 jets made by Lockheed Martin (LMT.N) and was promised a chance to buy them in a side deal when it agreed to normalize relations with Israel last August.

The U.S. State Department and the UAE Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

One of the people said the agreement was signed about an hour before Biden was sworn into office. The document gave the United Arab Emirates the chance to accept the negotiated schedule and configuration of the jets while also making the purchase request official.

The UAE has had the paperwork for more than a week, the people said. The UAE and the United States had once hoped to have a deal in place in December, but the timing of jet deliveries, their cost, the technology packages and training associated with the deal extended negotiations, the people said.

The jets are a major component of a $23 billion sale of high-tech armaments from General Atomics, Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) and Raytheon Technologies Corp (RTX.N) to the UAE announced this fall.

The UAE government also signed a separate agreement to buy up to 18 drones, the second-largest sale of U.S. drones to a single country, the people said.

The final in-country delivery date for the F-35 jets could not immediately be confirmed, but the initial proposal sent to UAE said 2027, the people said.

Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington, D.C.

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