U.S. willing to sell F-16s to Pakistan, India

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Friday, March 25, 2005

An F-16 fighter jet, taking off

The United States announced that it will be willing to sell F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan on Friday. U.S. State Department officials said that the sale would improve regional security.

A senior U.S. official, speaking to AFP on conditions of anonymity, reportedly said that the amount of planes which will be sold to Pakistan is "relatively small," although he said that" there is no set limit on what the United States is going to be willing to sell."

Pakistan reportedly wants 25 of the planes, which have a maximum range of over 2,000 miles and are capable of being used for ground or air attacks.

President Bush personally telephoned Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to inform him of the new developments before the announcement, according to White House officials.

According to a spokesman for Singh, the Indian prime minister expressed "great disappointment" and said that it could have "negative consequences" for the security of India.

The senior U.S. official also said that "we don't see any impact on the relevant military balances in the region." He added that the United States would be willing to sell both F-16 and more technologically advanced F-18 fighters to India, if India desired them.

New Delhi Television reports that the offer "has been welcomed" by India's Ministry of External Affairs. Xinhua has stated that India is seeking a new contract for a purchase of 126 fighter planes.

The announcement was also welcomed by the Pakistani government. "We welcome this good gesture and it shows good friendship between Pakistan and the United States," Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid said.

Xinhua reported that potential sales could benefit US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, which hopes to fill "looming gaps in the production line."

The company "has not been officially notified by the U.S. government of any agreement", Lockheed spokesman Tom Jurkowsky told the Washington Post. The Bethesda-based company said that it would have to close its production line in Fort Worth, Texas if it does not receive additional orders by this fall.

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