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US, Pakistan to Discuss Arms Sales - 2003-09-16

Pakistan and the United States are slated to begin talks this week on arms sales, with Washington now ready to loosen its long-standing ban on sales of important military equipment to Pakistan.

Pakistan is hoping to come out of this week's meetings with the means for revamping its air force.

During the 1980's, the Pakistani military bought F-16 attack jets from the United States. But when Washington started an arms embargo in the 1990's to protest Pakistan's nuclear program, the country was no longer able to buy new aircraft or even spare parts for old F-16s.

Pakistani political commentator Ayaz Amir says now the country is left with an aging fleet. "It hasn't got any new airplanes into its air force for a long period of time," he said. "It's making do with Chinese planes and other revised versions."

But Pakistan's alliance with the United States in its war against terrorism has radically changed the situation.

After meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in June, President Bush promised Pakistan up to $1.5 billion in military aid.

A high-ranking Pakistani official tells VOA that while the United States has already begun selling spare parts for the F-16s to Pakistan, a whole range of U.S. military equipment is on the agenda for the two-day talks in Washington.

Although President Bush has publicly ruled out the sale of more F-16s to Pakistan, one report says the U.S. may agree to update the jets Pakistan already has.

Mr. Amir said that while Pakistan could be hoping for major arms deals to come out of the talks, Washington is exercising caution about the sales for fear of souring relations with Pakistan's rival neighbor India. "The Americans clearly would wish much of this new equipment to be confined to the issue of spares, although I guess that Pakistan would like something more shining, more glittering, more substantial," said Mr. Amir.

One issue of particular concern for Pakistan is India's plans to acquire sophisticated early-warning radar aircraft from Israel.

Pakistan will probably raise this new Indian advance in the meetings, but most observers believe the United States is not likely to sell its own early-warning aircraft, the Boeing AWACS.