By Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has signed a new, updated defense accord with the United Arab Emirates that could allow Washington to send more troops and equipment there, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, in the latest sign of deepening ties with the close Gulf ally.
The agreement, the details of which were first reported by Reuters, replaces a 1994 accord to better "reflect the broad range of military-to-military cooperation that the UAE and U.S. enjoy today," spokesman Christopher Sherwood said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a champion of closer Gulf ties, discussed the agreement with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, at the White House on Monday.
The accord was signed on May 8, the Pentagon said, but was only disclosed over the past day.
"The agreement marks a new chapter in our partnership and reflects the breadth and depth of our ongoing cooperation," Mattis said in a statement after the talks.
A former leader of Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the region, Mattis has more openly embraced the Gulf's view of Iran as a strategic adversary in the Middle East.
Gulf Arabs hope the Trump administration will check what they see as a surge of Iranian support for paramilitary allies in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon and for fellow Shi'ite Muslims in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia's oil-producing Eastern Province.
Since taking office, Trump administration has already increased cooperation with the UAE in Yemen against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. It also appears increasingly inclined to support a Saudi-led coalition against Houthi fighters, who are aligned with Iran.
Iran rejects accusations that it is giving financial and military support to the Houthis in Yemen's civil war.
Spokesman Sherwood declined to characterize the size of the current U.S. presence in the Emirates or say whether the 1994 or new defense accord contained limits on the number of American forces that can be stationed in the country.
But Sherwood described the agreement as a framework that dictates "the magnitude and conditions of the U.S. military presence in-country."
"This provides the U.S. military with the ability to more seamlessly respond to a range of scenarios in and around the UAE, if necessary," Sherwood said, without elaborating.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by W Simon and Grant McCool)