The Bush administration said Friday it is notifying Congress of plans to sell U.S. F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan. U.S. officials say it will not affect the military balance in the region, though India has expressed displeasure.
The decision to sell Pakistan what officials here say will be a relatively small number of F-16s had been under consideration for several months.
Formal notice of the action was sent to Congress Friday, while President Bush telephoned Indian Prime Minister Monmohan Singh to tell him of the move, drawing what an Indian government spokesman said was an expression of great disappointment.
Senior administration officials who briefed reporters here tied the aircraft sale to what one described as the strategic decision by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to stand with the United States after the September 11 terrorist attacks of 2001.
They said the transfer of the planes would not affect the military balance in the region, in part because India will likely proceed, with the blessing of the United States, with its own purchase of advanced aircraft, American F-16s or F-18s, or planes from another supplier.
One U.S. official said the recent warming of relations between India and Pakistan may be the most significant since the two countries' independence after the partition in 1947.
They acknowledged that a roll-back of the progress was possible, but said U.S. policy, including the aircraft sales, was helping the process by, among other things, making Pakistan more secure in its dealings with its larger neighbor.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discussed the weapons sales and the broader U.S. relationship with the two South Asian powers during the trip to South and East Asia she completed Monday.
They say Ms. Rice laid out a broader conceptual relationship that envisages India's emergence as a major world power in the coming years, with closer strategic relations with the United States in such areas as missile defense and possible weapons co-production.
On a separate track is a long-term U.S. commitment to Pakistan to reward President Musharraf for risky decisions to tackle al-Qaida terrorism and shut down the A.Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network, and to help advance democratization there.
The Bush administration last year designated Pakistan a major non-NATO ally, and committed more than a billion dollars in military aid.
Pakistan already has some older-model F-16s in its arsenal, and has been seeking more since 1990, when a deal for 40 more planes fell through, because of U.S. Congressional concerns about its nuclear program.
Though officials here were not specific, the new sale reportedly would involve about 25 F-16s, the type and capabilities to be subject to further negotiation.
A Pakistani government spokesman welcomed the U.S. decision as a good gesture that could ease anti-American sentiment in the Muslim country.
India has reportedly been in the market for as many as 125 new fighter jets.
A White House spokeswoman said, in his conversation with Indian Prime Minister Singh, President Bush said the United States will respond positively to India's request for bids for new planes, though he noted this does not constitute a sale.