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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 March, 2005, 15:35 GMT
US defends Pakistan F-16 jet deal
Condoleezza Rice
Ms Rice says the US wants strong ties with both India and Pakistan
The US has defended its decision to sell F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, in the face of opposition from India.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Washington Post newspaper the US was trying to build relations with Pakistan and India at the same time.

India - which may also buy F-16s in the future - has warned the US deal with Pakistan risks creating an arms race.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has welcomed the move, seen as a reward for supporting the US war on terror.

It marks a change in US policy, which blocked the sale of F-16s in 1990 over Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme.

Mr Aziz said the fighters would help the Pakistani air force maintain an effective deterrence level - but stressed Pakistan had no aggressive intentions towards any country.

In an interview published in the Washington Post, Ms Rice tried to allay India's concerns that the deal could disturb the region's military balance.

"What we're trying to do is to solidify and extend relations with both India and Pakistan at a time when we have good relations with both of them, something that most people didn't think could be done, and when they have improving relationships with one another," she said.

"What we're trying to do is break out of the notion that this is a hyphenated relationship somehow, that anything that happens that's good for Pakistan has to be bad for India and vice versa."

Nuclear plants

Ms Rice said she had been struck by the 11 September Commission advice to "invest in the relationship with Pakistan" or risk recreating the situation of the 1990s, when it forged links to the Taleban in Afghanistan.

She went on: "Pakistan has come a long way, it's on a better trajectory than it's ever been, or that it's been in many, many years."

F-16 fighter jets

Washington also declared plans for "a decisively broader strategic relationship" with India on Friday - and has not ruled out helping it develop nuclear power plants.

"We're a step away from that, certainly, but looking at their energy needs and trying to understand how they can be met," Ms Rice said.

A spokesman for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he had expressed "great disappointment" on Friday about the decision to supply F-16s to Pakistan.

But India is contemplating a "very large" purchase of fighter planes, a state department official said.

Peace dialogue

Pakistan struck a deal with the US for F-16 jets in the late 1980s, but Washington blocked the sale in 1990 as a sanction against Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme.

The revived sale will form part of a five-year, $3bn assistance programme.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence in 1947, two of them over the disputed region of Kashmir.

The nations came to the brink of another war in 2002 but are now engaged in a two-year thaw that has seen improved relations.

The F-16 is built by Lockheed Martin and is one of the world's most successful fighter aircraft, with about 4,500 in commission globally.

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