July 13, 2006

F-16 sale to Pakistan hits snag in Congress

By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers, fearful of any
warplane-technology leakage to China, are demanding more
safeguards for a $5 billion sale to Pakistan of F-16 fighter
jets and related items, a key congressman said Thursday.

"We have reason to be concerned that all security
conditions be in place before we approve the sale," Rep. Tom
Lantos, the top Democrat on the House International Relations
Committee, said in a telephone interview with Reuters.

On June 28, the Bush administration formally notified
Congress of plans to sell Pakistan up to 36 F-16C/D Block 50/52
Falcon fighters built by Lockheed Martin Corp. in a deal worth
up to $5 billion if all options are exercised.

Congress has the power to block such a sale by enacting a
resolution of disapproval in both houses within 30 days of the
notification date.

"We are dealing with a country that gave us A.Q. Kahn,"
said Lantos, referring to a Pakistani scientist who confessed
in 2004 to peddling banned nuclear wares around the world for
years despite international safeguards.

Pakistan says Kahn, who was pardoned by President Pervez
Musharraf and has been under house arrest, acted independently
and without state knowledge.

Lantos, of California, said he and Henry Hyde, the Illinois
Republican who chairs the House panel, were pressing the State
Department to build new safeguards into the deal.

He said he favored the sale once "all of the security
provisions are in place." Under standard practices, a buyer of
U.S. arms typically must agree to "end use monitoring" designed
to make sure the technology is not shared illicitly.

Lantos made clear he was concerned that China, which has
close military ties to Pakistan, might get access to the Block
50/52 -- the most modern F-16 flown by the United States. "That
is the most obvious and most logical concern," he said.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar,
an Indiana Republican, has scheduled a classified briefing
Tuesday on the sale with Robert Joseph, undersecretary of state
for arms control and international security, and Air Force Lt.
Gen. Jeffrey Kohler, head of the Defense Security Cooperation
Agency, according to Andy Fisher, a Lugar spokesman.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said
"proliferation," illicit sharing of U.S. technology, had been
taken into account before Congress was notified of the sale.

"This is the right proposal for Pakistan," he told a
regular news briefing, adding the administration would continue
to consult Congress closely on it.

Lantos spoke after what an aide said was a State Department
request to postpone a committee hearing scheduled for Thursday
on the proposed sale. "There is no reason to proceed with a
public hearing when we have substantive security concerns with
respect to the sale," Lantos said.

Hyde's spokeswoman did not return a call seeking comment.

Lantos faulted the State Department for ignoring a
traditional 20-day period for conferring with Congress on arms
sales in addition to the 30 days during which a sale may be
blocked. Congressional security concerns could have been
eliminated during such "pre-notification" talks, he said.