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Bush plans 5 billion dollar arms sale to Pakistan

Written by: Staff

WASHINGTON, July 3 (Reuters) The Bush Administration said today that it planned to sell Pakistan up to 36 advanced F-16 fighter jets built by Lockheed Martin Corp. in a weapons package that could be worth more than 5 billion dollars.

The proposed sale of 18 new ''Fighting Falcon'' fighters with an option for 18 more demonstrates the United States' commitment to a long-term relationship with Pakistan, White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters.

The State Department said it was part of a drive to broaden a strategic partnership with Pakistan and advance US.

interests in South Asia.

The new F-16 C/D Block 50/52 aircraft would be used for close air support in the U.S.-declared global war on terrorism, among other things, the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a notice to Congress. The agency, responsible for government-to-government arms sales, said the fighters would be worth 3 billion dollars if all options were exercised.

''This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping an ally meet its legitimate defense requirements,'' the Pentagon said in the notice.

The proposed sale includes upgrades for Pakistan's fleet of 34 earlier model F-16s and a support package for up to 26 refurbished F-16s that Pakistan eventually may buy, Snow said.

These 60 ''mid-life upgrade'' kits -- which would improve on-board radar and make it possible to carry more precision-guided weapons -- could be worth as much as 1.3 billion dollar, the Pentagon told Congress in one of four related notices dated June 28 and made public today.

Once notified, Congress has 30 days to block such a sale.

It is not expected to do so in light of Pakistan's strategic importance to the United States. Consultations with Congress have been under way since last year, Snow said.

In March 2005, the United States said it would resume sales of F-16s to Pakistan after a 16-year break intended to sanction Pakistan for its nuclear program.

Formal notification coincided with initial votes in Congress for the administration's plan to create a broad nuclear cooperation agreement with India, Pakistan's archrival, that reverses decades of US policy.

Pakistan initially had asked about buying as many as 75 new F-16s and 11 refurbished ones, Air Force Lt Gen Jeffrey Kohler, head of the Pentagon's security cooperation agency, told Reuters in May 2005. The deal was scaled back after the October 8, 2005, earthquake that killed more than 73,000 people.

US weapons that would equip the F-16s include 500 AIM-120C5 advanced medium range air-to-air missiles and 200 AIM-9M-8/9 ''Sidewinder'' heat-seeking missiles, both built by Raytheon Co., as well as 500 satellite-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions made by Boeing Co., the notice to Congress said.

Reuters DH VP0140

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